NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — The city is a model for the nation in improving relations between law enforcement and minority communities that have frayed following highly publicized violence by police, FBI Director James Comey said Monday.
Comey and NAACP Chairman Roslyn Brock spoke at a conference in New Haven aimed improving how police and minorities interact and work together to solve problems.
Comey cited the success of the city's Project Longevity program, which has brought together police, community members, social services providers and others to try to reduce gun violence. The program is also being run in Hartford and Bridgeport. A recent Yale University study said the program has resulted in an estimated five fewer group member-involved homicides and shootings a month in New Haven.
"New Haven," Comey said, "is a place where some very important and creative work is being done that I hope is an inspiration to people around the country."
Monday's event, titled Building Bridges: The Community and Law Enforcement, was organized after clergy members in the area called the office of Connecticut U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly earlier this year when a white man was accused of shooting nine black parishioners to death at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Comey said law enforcers and the communities they serve have been "arching" away from each other and he believes the gap has been widening.
"Each incident that involves the perception or the reality of police misconduct bends one line farther away," he said. "Each time a police officer is attacked or killed in the line of duty, it bends the other line farther away."
He said a place like New Haven "offers a great chance to bend those lines back toward each other."
Project Longevity is based on successful violence prevention programs used in other parts of the country. Police, social services providers and others meet with community residents including gang members to get out the messages that violence will no longer be tolerated and that help is available to avoid getting caught up in criminal activity.
The program in New Haven was launched in response to a high homicide rate in the city in 2011, when 34 people were killed. The murder rate of about 26 per 100,000 residents that year was higher than the rates in Washington, D.C., and Chicago and was on par with Oakland, California, Yale researchers said. There were 12 homicides last year, police said.
Members at the conference also observed a moment of silence to remember the victims of Friday's Paris attacks. Comey said he talked with his counterpart in France on Monday to offer condolences.
Brock said law enforcement and black communities need to come together to talk about their concerns to help ease tensions but lawmakers also must address aggressive policing nationwide.
Brock said the NAACP is pushing Congress to approve a national anti-racial profiling law and is calling for mandated police cameras, cultural competency training for officers and more diverse police forces.
The NAACP chairman also praised Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state lawmakers for abolishing the death penalty, passing a law making police more accountable in the use of force and providing second chances to nonviolent offenders by helping them successfully reintegrate into society and giving them more opportunities to get drug treatment and other services.
"Together, we can usher in a new day of hope and justice and liberty for our community if we have the tenacity ... and the perseverance and if we overcome that four-letter word that's called fear," Brock said.