Try as we might, Connecticut sometimes misses the mark on finding a balanced resolution to crime, but there’s a simple solution. Through every budgetary decision and legislative policy, we must listen to what people who live in the most impacted communities are telling us about their own needs.
Recently, the governor announced that the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection was sending $25,000 in additional police resources to deal with an increase in crime in New Haven, Hartford, and Bridgeport. Gov. Ned Lamont’s desire to address gun violence is commendable and should garner bipartisan support. But we know that giving funds to city police departments is not the way to do it.
Those most impacted by gun violence in their communities have told us what they want, and it’s not more police.
Communities want and need things that strengthen them from the inside. Leaders in these communities have already laid the foundation for a self-sustaining community infrastructure to support the strategic reduction of crime. Police departments are not responsible for building this sort of community. It’s not the role of police departments to preemptively reduce the variables that increase crime, so adding more officers to the equation won’t help.
That sentiment even comes from the police themselves. During the press conference discussing this $25,000-per-city increase for the police, New Haven Police Chief Otoniel Reyes discussed the underlying causes of gun violence: education, socioeconomic issues, mental health issues, etc. These are the complex issues underlying increases in violent crime. These issues result from stark inequities in our state that dictate which communities have opportunities to thrive and which do not.
But, people in the communities are leading by example. They are hosting cookouts, designing programs that give youth something to do, providing mentorship, and connecting people to social services.
In a recent interview, New Haven’s Ice the Beef chairman Chaz Carmon discussed a lack of jobs and opportunities in his city and called on local employers to create jobs without discriminating against those from certain neighborhoods. People living in these communities are experts and know how our money should be invested.
At the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, we partner with Justice Advisors — 18- to 25-year-olds who have gained their expertise through first- or second-hand justice system experience. Their conversations with hundreds of their peers helped us jointly discover seven areas that need to be addressed so that youth and communities can be successful.
Increasing police presence and activity in their neighborhood was not one of them. Included are things like addressing housing and economic inequities, distrust of systems of authority, access to opportunities, uplifting positive influences and “credible messengers,” providing the ability to heal from trauma, and showing them reasons to hope. Young people from our cities are asking us to invest our time, love, and money into them. The Annie E. Casey Foundation and Connecticut Association for Human Services data, just released, shows that there is a wide racial disparity in the post-recession period between 2011 and 2017: where about 20% of white children are living in households with employment insecurity, it’s nearly twice that amount for Latinx and black children.
Our Justice Advisors are crying out for investment but in their success, not their failure. They are concerned about the lack of access to housing that their families can afford. They are concerned about access to well-paying jobs with benefits. They are impacted by systems and authorities whom they’ve come to distrust after racially and economically biased treatment.
We reached out to Marc Pelka, the undersecretary for Criminal Justice with the Office of Policy and Management, after the announcement was made that cities would get $25,000 for their police departments to address violence. Why, we asked, was the focus on police?
Pelka assured us that this was simply one piece of the administration’s broader vision for addressing violence and that they plan to take a holistic approach. Actively seeking out and listening to what community members tell us they need is a critical first step, and we’re grateful Pelka will sit down for his second meeting with the Justice Advisors next month.
Taking a long, hard look at our state’s budget and starting to address the inequities built into its formulas and structures is an important area where the administration can lead. We look forward to working with them on this journey.
In Connecticut, we have a long history of acknowledging issues and working with leaders at the highest level to address them. But progress demands more of us. Our state’s leaders must now listen and allow communities to inform investment policy that will impact them. As a state suffering from crippling fiscal concerns, we can’t afford to do it any other way.
Abby Anderson is the executive director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance. She can be reached by .
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