New Haven targets 'violent street groups' amid uptick in shootings
NEW HAVEN — Project Longevity’s Achilles “Archie” Generoso says the antiviolence group’s message is consistent.
“We want you to stay alive; we want you to prosper,” said Generoso, a former New Haven assistant police chief who helped launch Project Longevity and recently returned as statewide director of the organization.
Project Longevity this week held its first call-in in more than a year, as officials and residents met with representatives of gangs and groups in New Haven to offer a warning and olive branch amid a rise in shootings, according to the organization, Generoso said 17 of the 19 people invited to the call-in attended. He said the organization usually tries to bring in 30 to 40 people, reaching out to representatives of groups associated with violence in New Haven, but pandemic restrictions meant a smaller gathering. The organization works to bring together law enforcement, service agencies and community residents in an equal partnership, he said. Representatives of service providers spoke over Zoom, he said. The meeting, Generoso said, was a “necessary first step in restoring a sense of normalcy.” Generoso said the group’s message is twofold: An offer of assistance, including job opportunities and links to service organizations, for choosing peace; on the other, a warning that those who did not would draw the intense focus of law enforcement. Generoso said, “the message is consistent right through.” “We care about you. But we are not going to tolerate (the gun violence),” he said about what was shared during the call-in. In 2020, there were 20 homicides in New Haven, the most in the city since 2013, and 121 non-fatal shootings, an increase from 11 deaths and 78 nonfatal shootings in 2019. There were 274 incidents of shots being fired last year, up from 151 in 2019. As of Jan. 17, there had been nine shootings in New Haven in 2021, in increase from two at the same point in 2020, according to city police. There have been four homicides to date this year; there had been none at this point last year. There were 73 shootings considered gang- or group-related in 2020, according to Police Department data, up from 41 in 2019 and 32 in 2018. Assistant Chief Karl Jacobson, speaking earlier this month about crime in the city in 2020, said: “This type of crime is the retaliatory stuff — I shoot at one person, you shoot back at me because he’s their friend — it’s group- and gang-related. We have to get back to the Project Longevity model — do the messaging, bring everybody in, talk to them. When a group or gang drops a body after a call-in, go after (them).” Two additional shootings were reported over the weekend; a 29-year-old man was wounded Monday. Police did not comment on possible motives for the three most recent shootings. Speakers at the call-in included Mayor Justin Elicker, Police Chief Otoniel Reyes, Assistant Chief Karl Jacobson and resident Sean Reeves, who lost his son to gun violence in 2011, among others, Generoso said.
Elicker, Reyes and New Haven Project Manager Stacy Spell on Wednesday released a statement noting the importance of the call-in. “In New Haven, like many urban centers amid the pandemic, we have seen an increase in violent crime. It is a tragedy when we lose community members prematurely,” Elicker said in the statement. “Our Police Department, Youth Department, and other city staff are working hard to address the violence and provide the support to those who are affiliated with violent street groups. “Call-ins are only one tool we are using to engage community members who are at-risk for involvement in violence,” Elicker said. “When I spoke with the young men last night, I made clear both that the violence must stop and that our team and I will do everything in our power to support and help them choose a different path.” Reyes described the meeting as “an important step.” He said the department had seized seven guns in the last week and made other violence-related arrests. “However, the greatest impact we can have on public safety is the prevention of crime, to engage in proactive and preventative measures that will stop the next shooting or homicide. Call-ins are not a panacea - no strategy is. It is a tool designed to pinpoint those individuals that are driving the violence,” said Reyes. Spell said the New Haven chapter of Project Longevity was the second gun violence intervention group following such a model to hold a call-in this year. The goal is “to address the escalating gun violence,” he said. Generoso credited the pandemic for driving some of the recent violence in New Haven, which has seen an uptick like other cities in the country during the period, and said the organization had not been able to bring people together for a call-in in more than a year. Another call-in will be held in three to four months, Generoso said. The group’s chapters in Bridgeport and Hartford likely will hold meetings in March, he said. “This is a first step for Project Longevity redoubling its efforts,” said Generoso. Written by: Ben Lambert firstname.lastname@example.org