Questions Remain, but Newhallville Grant Moves Forward

The Newhallville neighborhood is being offered a $1 million Department of Justice, (DOJ) grant aimed at crime reduction and “revitalization” but members of the Board of Aldermen’s joint Human Services and Public Safety Committee pointed out what they considered to be some red flags-around $550,000 pegged for a combination of “community policing” and personnel salaries, as well as less than specific strategies as to how the remaining funds will be utilized to address underlying issues of poverty in an area where the unemployment rate is 21 percent-when they convened for a marathon Public Hearing in the Aldermanic Chamber of New Haven City Hall on Tuesday night.

How the overall strategy is shaped will depend on discussions slated to take place over the course of a four to six month planning period, said New Haven Director of Youth Services Jason Barlett. But for now, he needs the Committee’s go-ahead. Board of Aldermen approval is part of what the city has to submit to the DOJ to officially receive the grant. Once it moves out of Committee, the Board as a whole will receive the item.

“As we keep having meetings, we hope to develop that,” Barlett told the Committee in the midst of a slew of questions pertaining to a tentative budget proposal for the execution of the grant.

But the Committee members wanted to make sure that Newhalville does not, as Alders Brian Wingate, Dolores Colon, and Jeanette Morrison put it, “get burned” as it and low income New Haven communities like it have by past grant programs that they say have failed to engage residents-to the detriment of neighborhoods that deteriorate with the eventual loss of the state or federal aid-and direct the funding toward initiatives that benefit them, as opposed to outside business interests.

“We appreciate the grant,” Wingate said. “But in the past with these types of situations, Newhallville has been burned. We want to make sure that there’s community input.”

So the Committee is sending it along, but with some conditions attached. Amendments added to the proposal prior to the vote mandate that the budget for the project not be decided until after the resident input portion of the process, that a public participation on a community management team be guaranteed, and that the Committee be provided with specific origins of $868,000 of matching funds-including $135,000 for “hot spot” policing-being provided by the city as part of the initiative.

And “hot spot” policing? That, among other terms such as “community policing”-a $106,7778 line item in the personnel portion of the budget-raised some eyebrows as well. Failure to establish what exactly those things will mean for the community, members of the public that spoke out during the hearing warn, can lead to something detrimental.

Case in point: the issue highlighted in a petition-170 signatures demanding that the city put an end to the New Haven Department policy known as “The Surge”-that Yale University student Karleh Wilson presented to Wingate when she sat down before the Committee to make her comments. Characterized by high volumes of officers being sent to patrol the streets of a given neighborhood, the tactic-detailed in a The New Haven Independent article  weeks ago-started in the downtown area and has been criticized by residents and local activists who say that it is giving legitimacy to racial profiling in a city that is becoming increasingly gentrified.

“This is racial profiling,” Wilson says. “This is no different than Stop and Frisk, and in light of recent events around the country…”

Wingate cuts her off.

“I can’t let you speak on that,” he says.

The rules of the hearing are strict-members of the public are only allowed to address the specific proposal being discussed, but Greg Williams, another New Haven resident and activist, wants to stress the potential connection.

“I can tell you how relevant it is to the agenda item if you give me a chance to do so,” Williams says to Wingate.

He continues.

“If you’re going to talk about community policing without defining it, it is relevant to talk about policing in other communities,” he says. “It’s relevant to talk about hot spot policing. I don’t think police should be getting any more money on any other agenda items until that is addressed.”

The proposal’s report addresses community policing, and expresses intentions to improve relations between officers and residents through strategies that include youth outreach programs.

Hot spot policing means focusing law enforcement efforts “where crime continues to take place”, Barlett said. In a 97 page report on Newhallville-the location of 11 murders since 2011-parts of Read Street, Lilac Street, Dixwell Avenue, and Newhall Street are highlighted red on a miniature map of the neighborhood, where 78 shootings have occurred since 2011. The document was put together as a part of the proposal sent to the DOJ in applying for the grant.

So the area has its problems, but addressing them goes beyond just policing, members of the public say. It goes back to the concerns alders on the Committee have regarding community programs-is the initiative simply issuing a response to the neighborhood’s crime rate, or is it attacking the contributing factors, such as a 21 percent neighborhood unemployment rate that is double that of the city’s as a whole?

“What industries are in a position-right now-to give these people jobs?” asked Abraham Kareem, a city resident. “When people have something to wake up for-a job-they’re less likely to be out committing crimes. Every time we discuss this, we’re talking about policing, as if that stops crime. That money would be better spent inside he neighborhood, not on police from outside the neighborhood.”

Al Riccio, another New Haven resident, has similar thoughts.

“If you want to tackle this problem head on, give people more resources, if this is not going to become a repeat of poverty, policing, incarceration, and the prison industry complex,” he says.

Newhallville currently has 220 of its residents incarcerated, and the neighborhood is home to 13 percent of the city’s ex-offenders, according to the report.

It will take more than this one grand and initiative to address that, as well as all of the other issues, Barlett told the Committee.

“This grant is not meant to solve all the problems of Newhallville,” he said. “It’s meant to get folks on the same page and start working on it. It’s a carrot. This is not meant to just take money and put it into the community. This is about strategy, and getting synergy. A lot of that requires personnel.”

The personnel required in order for the city to receive the grant includes a project coordinator position that will be filled by someone from The University of New Haven, (UNH) for $173,624 over the course of the grant’s 3-year period. There will also be a New Haven Police Department crime analyst-for $13,575-and a “Fresh Start Case Manager” to be paid $107,718 through the 3 years.

The latter is a part of plans to run re-entry programs for ex-offenders, 400 of which have finished serving time and returned to the neighborhood over the course of the past three years, according to the report.

The amount of the grant’s funding being used to hire personnel is $401,695-not including $147,458 for fringe benefits. Then there’s the $313,950 portion of the tentative budget dedicated to consultants and contracts. That includes $82,000 for Youth Programs and $12,450 for “Community Support”, but there is still concern among members of the Committee.

“I’m concerned about the amount of money being spent on personnel,” said Alder Santiago Berrios Bones. “That’s going to cause a lot of doubts. A lot of people thought they were going to get $1 million.”

Most of the budget is “not set in stone”, according to Bartlett. Many of the line items were given a rough estimate so that an application that adhered to strict eligibility stipulations could be met with the expectation that most of it would not be final, he said.

“I had a problem myself with the consultants [portion of the budget] when I saw it,” he said. “One thing we can’t change is UNH-that’s critical to the grant.”

The budget also includes $100,000 for outreach workers, something the neighborhood already has. This raised the issue of a possible duplication of services, and whether or not the funding outside of personnel and consultants is being allocated wisely.

“It’s not a lot of money,” Morrison said. “So we need to get as much out of this as we can.”

The Board of Alders as a whole will vote on the grant in January.

 

 

 

 

 

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