New Haven won’t reduce violence by forcing the mayor to show up at crime scenes or ordering 500 additional surveillance cameras, from the perspective of a retired police officer who oversaw the police response to the previous one prolonged outbreak of violence in the city.
That top cop is John Velleca, a retired deputy municipal police chief who now teaches criminal justice at Albertus Magnus College.
Velleca served as deputy chief overseeing detectives and then acting chief of police in 2011 when, as in 2020 and 2021, shootings skyrocketed to over 100 a year and homicides doubled their previous rate.
At the time, through intensive intelligence gathering in conjunction with federal investigators, police were able to identify a small group of gang members responsible for most of the violence. They were only able to identify two men they believed were responsible for as many as 15 homicides and secure convictions that sent them to federal prison for decades. The crime rate has fallen again.
Until last year, when New Haven, like cities across the country, saw gun violence explode to previous levels amid the pandemic.
This time around, the challenge is more complicated, Velleca said Thursday during an appearance on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven”. While some of the shootings involve retaliation from loosely organized groups, gun violence has become more prevalent and random for more reasons. (Watch the episode in the video above.)
“We created a culture – us, everyone – where it became acceptable, almost expected, for you to solve a low level problem with a handgun,” Velleca explained. “When I started working, you saw fights. Now you see shootings. It’s a national thing.
Meanwhile, social media amplifies small disputes within moments, resulting in more of these disputes.
There is no simple answer, said Velleca. He endorsed the city’s continued participation in joint intelligence task forces with the state and federal government to identify and address the small number of people responsible for the greatest amount of violence. He also argued that schools must start early – before children reach adolescence – to deal with the “urban trauma” in which young people are now growing up. He supported increased training in conflict resolution that emphasizes avoiding guns to resolve disputes, as well as “teaching respect for others in society”.
Velleca said two of the Elicker administration’s recent strategies are irrelevant.
In one case, Mayor Justin Elicker announced Monday that his administration planned to spend some of the federal pandemic relief dollars that were pouring into the city to purchase 500 new surveillance cameras to place in the city. “We are struggling to get community members to share information” after a violent incident such as a shooting, the mayor said of the camera proposal. ” People are scared. They don’t want to be a snitch. Buying and installing cameras across the city should help solve this problem, he said.
“It’s a ridiculous notion,” Velleca said on “Dateline”.
For starters, he said, cameras don’t work like the magic some people believe they do, and they aren’t a substitute for the hard work of gaining public trust and participation.
“We have had a lot of video homicides. Very rarely we use anything from that video, ”Velleca explained. Due to poor lighting and grainy images, officers can rarely see the suspect, for example.
The video helps interview witnesses, he admitted: “If a witness comes in and hasn’t seen the video,” the investigator can see that his version of events matches the footage.
So “that helps to a certain extent. If you weigh that against the invasion of privacy, I don’t think it’s worth it. I don’t think we should be a surveillance society.
Times have changed over the past few decades, Elicker argued when contacted for an answer.
Technology has improved, so surveillance video can show more detail, the mayor said. He called the department’s current cameras obsolete; police visited the departments of Hartford and Bridgeport and found the new models were helping police “very quickly piece together what had happened in some cases to hold someone to account”. Some of the cameras New Haven would buy now would be specifically capable of reading license plates better than in the past. “This will allow us to very quickly identify the vehicles involved and to respond to them on [how] sometimes the resolution of the camera is not ideal, ”said Elicker.
“Adding cameras is not a silver bullet. This is one of the many elements of our approach to tackling violence, ”he said.
The mayor called Velleca’s private life “old fashioned thinking.” In today’s world, everyone has a phone. Everyone agrees with GPS to know where they are at all times. We have already chosen to give up a lot of freedom.
Velleca also addressed the mayor’s decision to attend the scene of all major shootings and then issue a press release from the mayor’s office on the events. These releases usually contain a single sentence indicating that a shooting or homicide took place in a particular location, without any other related information. The rest of the press releases usually contain paragraphs summarizing the initiatives he has taken as mayor to fight crime. The police department will sometimes follow a half day or more after this release with an extra sentence or two about the incidents.
“This is partly why there is no trust” in the police, observed Velleca.
For high-profile shootings involving, say, young victims or multiple victims, it would make more sense for the chief of police to show up rather than the mayor, he argued. “The police chief relieves the investigators of the burden. The detective’s boss doesn’t have to deal with the media or start answering questions. [If] you have politicians showing up, that’s what the leader can handle. Keep the politicians behind. Hold a briefing. Investigators can investigate.
In response to public complaints about the lack of background information on crime, Mayor Elicker has also started hosting regular press conferences at 1 Union Ave. to provide some details on some recent crimes or arrests.
During the last major peak ten years ago, then-mayor John DeStefano rarely appeared on a filming scene, Velleca noted. “The chief should speak for the department, not the mayor. Mayor DeStefano would say to me, “What am I to say here? Not that he doesn’t know it. But that was our show to run. … the mayor is gone [it] it was up to me to express what I thought was correct.
“I’m going to introduce myself to whatever I can because it gives me a better understanding of what’s going on and makes sure I can help people the best that I can. I don’t understand why anyone would criticize me for going to these things, ”Elicker said. “In fact, I find it very helpful in my role as mayor to speak with neighbors at the scene of a homicide and knock on doors after an incident. “
As for his office releasing the initial information on the crime and its role in the police press conference, Elicker said, “It’s not a choice. That is why we have started the weekly police press conferences. We [the mayor’s office and police department] both should do this job.
posted by: MissTheMark September 30, 2021 4:37 p.m.
“The mayor called out Velleca’s privacy regarding ‘old-fashioned thinking’. In today’s world, everyone has a phone. Everyone agrees with GPS to know where they are at all times. We have already chosen to give up a lot of freedom.
There is a difference between voluntarily giving up privacy (even without understanding the ramifications) and creating a state of surveillance.
Elicker is a manager, not a leader. Sometimes leaders need to know when to sit down and let their subordinates lead and manage issues.
Leaders can be managers. Managers are never leaders.
posted by: Patricia kane September 30, 2021 5:06 PM
“The mayor called Velleca’s privacy concerns” old school thinking. In today’s world, everyone has a phone. Everyone agrees with GPS to know where they are at all times. We have already chosen to give up a lot of freedom.
In fact, we have never knowingly consented to data mining that brings billions to social media moguls. We “consent” to what the law school called a “contract of adhesion,” which means that a person had no meaningful choice. So if you want a cell phone or internet access or the privilege of buying items online, you are forced to accept 3-5 page contracts that take your privacy as the access price.
In Europe, the EU actually limits what the media can extract.
Where is the proponent of protecting us this way here in the United States? Silence.
That a mayor can in fact characterize privacy concerns as “old-fashioned thinking” shows that he will never be a candidate for an ACLU award.
Velleca makes more sense, but he was then a professional police officer. As an educator, he is clearly in tune with the times when it comes to privacy.
Miss the Mark is on the mark.
posted by: PJ216 September 30, 2021 9:29 p.m.
It’s a good thing for the mayor to visit a crime scene after police have inspected the scene, gathered evidence, identified and spoken to witnesses and, hopefully, after an arrest. The presence of a Mayor, Aulne, responsible for the City is a distraction for the police who must concentrate on the scene for the benefit of the victims. The police must focus on the crime scene and anyone who is not a police officer must be outside the perimeter. Never inside.
After police work is completed, public officials should go to the scene of the crime to show care and compassion to the families of the victim (s)