Spike in Hartford homicides creates challenge for governor

AP News
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Posted: Aug 19, 2015 6:17 PM

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — It's not unusual for a question about Hartford's rising homicide rate to come up as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy pitches his new Second Chance Society initiative to help nonviolent criminals and touts an overall reduction in crime across Connecticut.

The state's capital so far this year has had 21 homicides, more than last year's total of 19. On Tuesday, the body of a young Hartford mother who had been missing for more than a week was found in nearby Bloomfield.

"We've got a problem. Crime is too high," Malloy acknowledged at a recent discussion with activists and students in Hartford's north end. "Although we've made some significant progress over the years, we are experiencing in Hartford in particular what is too high a rate of homicides."

The timing creates a challenge for Malloy, who has argued it's better for society to give nonviolent offenders more opportunities to rehabilitate themselves and reintegrate. He has traveled the state since the legislature adjourned, touting his Second Chance legislation, and in June went to Germany to discuss it with that nation's criminal justice officials.

"It's important for the public not to conflate these issues. The focus of Second Chance is on nonviolent offenders, and not the kind of crime Hartford has seen — which is unique in Connecticut," said Devon Puglia, a Malloy spokesman, adding that the administration can help nonviolent offenders, reduce crime and assist Hartford simultaneously.

Mike Lawlor, the governor's undersecretary for criminal justice matters, contends Hartford is an outlier compared with other major Connecticut cities when it comes to homicides. He said overall crime, including in Hartford, is on the decline.

So far this year, there have been 11 homicides in New Haven, the same as there were last year at this time. The city ended 2014 with 12, which included one determined to be a justifiable homicide. In Bridgeport, there were 12 homicides last year. There were 10 so far this year, compared with at least six at this time in 2014.

New preliminary figures for 2014, which the state is submitting to the FBI and provided to The Associated Press, show that reported overall violent crime dropped 6 percent in Hartford compared with 2013, 15 percent in New Haven and 4 percent in Bridgeport.

"These are actual numbers," Lawlor said. "We know that the number of reported violent crimes are steadily trending downward in the state, especially in the largest cities."

The homicide rate has become an issue in Hartford's mayoral race, in which incumbent Pedro Segarra is being challenged by fellow Democrat Luke Bronin, who is Malloy's former legal counsel. During a debate on Wednesday, Bronin also referred to Hartford as an outlier, pointing out how it currently has the highest level of homicides in New England this year.

"This is not just a trend," he said. "Something happening here is different."

Segarra disagreed, pointing out that other major U.S. cities also are experiencing spikes in homicide rates this summer. His campaign tweeted a news article during the debate about a recent meeting in Washington, D.C., of law enforcement officials from major cities such as St. Louis, Chicago and Baltimore to discuss how to address the spikes in summer homicides.

"This is a national issue. This is an issue that is affecting cities across the United States," said Segarra, who accused Bronin of trying to politicize the recent spate of homicides, a charge Bronin denied.

Hartford Deputy Police Chief Brian Foley said the additional help the state has provided the department, such as additional state police, parole officers and corrections officials, have proven helpful over the past couple weeks in solving cases and preventing retaliatory shootings.

"Everyone is trying to come up with a single reason, a place to place blame on this, and it's not that simple. There are a lot of layers to what happens here in the city," Foley said. "What we're doing will work and we will get out of this."