The city police department is being reorganized to fight escalating gun violence in the city, Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said Wednesday.
The state police is sending more troopers to help as well, with additional troopers already on patrol Wednesday.
“We’ll do whatever it takes,” Bennett vowed. “This is a critical stage … a handful of people in this city are out of control. We will take away their freedom to be on the streets.”
Mayor Brian U. Stratton described the gun incidents in the past six weeks as unprecedented in recent history. Shots have been fired nearly every day, and numerous people have been injured. One man was killed early this month.
To stop the violence, police have now come up with new patrol patterns based on an analysis of all reported shootings in the past three months — including the many incidents in which no one was hurt.
Based on that analysis, Bennett redeployed his patrol, detective and traffic officers Wednesday.
He’s keeping the details quiet to take criminals by surprise, but Stratton said the new patrols will be “more focused” on the Hamilton Hill section, where most of the city’s shootings occur.
Hamilton Hill residents expressed dismay last week that the police did not have a dedicated patrol in their neighborhood on the midnight shift, and Stratton said then that he wants patrols there every night.
“Obviously we’re going to target it there,” Stratton said after the reorganization was announced. “The target area is Hamilton Hill and where the shots have been frequent: State Street, Mont Pleasant.”
The city is taking the shootings so seriously that Bennett is sending all nonessential personnel to the streets.
Supervisors and others will be assigned to patrol duty whenever possible, he said. He’s even asked the city judges and the town judges to let the police know when they’re available at night, so criminals can be quickly arraigned and sent to the county jail. That would free up the two officers who watch the city lockup, Bennett said.
COPS ON THE STREET
He will also use overtime to increase the number of officers on patrol, saying he wants to overwhelm criminals with “the sheer number of police out there.”
The police will also run special patrols to find and arrest residents who use illegal guns.
Many residents on Hamilton Hill carry illegal guns, as documented by a story in the Sunday Gazette. Young teens said they consider guns to be so cool that they paint BB guns and paintball guns to look like real guns, and often fire them on the street in imitation of the crime around them.
Older teens who carried real guns vehemently defended their right to do so, despite being too young — owners must be at least 21 — and in some cases being ineligible because of criminal backgrounds. They said that Hamilton Hill is so dangerous that they might be shot or robbed if they did not have an illegal gun to protect themselves.
Stratton said such reports — particularly of young teens eager to get their own illegal gun — are disturbing.
“The issue of guns on the streets is something I’m very concerned about,” he said.
Stratton and Bennett say they believe the police reorganization will have an effect. But, they said, police alone can’t stop the violence.
They appealed to the public to report gun crimes immediately to police. Bennett wants residents to call 911 with not just the typical laconic report of “shots fired,” but also with details: descriptions of possible perpetrators, license plate numbers, vehicle descriptions and direction of travel.
If witnesses fail to offer information, criminals are more likely to continue the violence, Bennett warned. He’s said he’s hoping residents are so fed up with the violence that they’ll help police catch the shooters.
“We have someone cooperating in the shooting this afternoon. That is so refreshing,” he said, referring to an incident on Hamilton Hill in which no one was injured, though a vehicle was hit. “The magic question is, have we now reached the point where people are so frustrated that they will cooperate? I hope the answer is yes.”