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‘Our community isn’t safe right now’

March 28, 2019 GMT

BRIDGEPORT — Almost everyone gathered by the police substation in the city’s East End on Thursday morning agreed that reopening it would help stem violent crime.

How and when that might happen, elected officials can’t say. And as many noted afterward, staffing the facility would be only a first step in building trust between the community and law enforcement.

“If it’s a one-sided thing, it won’t work,” East End resident Gloria Brown said. “The new police department kids don’t know anything about this community. So why would you bring them in here and turn them loose when they don’t know what they’re doing; only that they’ve got a badge — that’s their authority, their power — and their gun?”

State Sen. Dennis Bradley, D-Bridgeport, organized a press conference in front of the substation at 1149 Stratford Ave. to discuss ways to end violence in the city, where there have been seven homicides so far in 2019. There were 11 in all of last year.

The most recent killing happened this month on Hollister Avenue, when 20 shots were fired into a parked car, killing 21-year-old Tyron Heard and wounding two others.

Bradley began the press conference by noting a number of revitalization projects in the works in the neighborhood, saying Bridgeport is “city on the move.”

At the same time, he said, “Our community isn’t safe right now.”

Reopening the substation, which was last open briefly in 2017, would help, he said. But Bradley and others said police need to do more to reach out to the community.

“It isn’t a secret how we stop crime. We’ve done it in the past and we know we can do it in the future,” Bradley said. “We need people here who not only look like us, but understand us, who are organically from the community, who know who each and every single one of us are, so we can effectively work with law enforcement.”

‘We always need to do more’

Mayor Joe Ganim said the substation “is and will continue to be a priority for the city.”

Ganim, Bradley and City Councilman Ernie Newton said they would work with police to see where things stand, but they didn’t know how much funding would be needed to reopen the substation, or where the money would come from.

“It might be too ambitious, because it requires a lot of moving pieces to come together, but before the summer starts, I want to see this substation open, I want to see it active,” Bradley said.

“We always need to do more, and more, and more,” Ganim said. “We’ve been in and out of here, it’s been opened and closed, we’ve made commitments, let’s follow up on that.”

Newton said Police Capt. Lonnie Blackwell is working to bring back foot patrols to the area. Newton vowed to walk the beat with officers, to introduce them to residents.

Tony Barr — a community activist whose stated plans to run for mayor have not yet been formalized — said, “The police have to come in our community and make sure that they understand the people they’re dealing with on a daily basis and build a relationship.”

East End political leader Ralph Ford said officials need to demonstrate “a long-term commitment to community policing, not just a one-time thing.”

“We’ve had these openings, we’ve had these press releases before,” Ford said. “We’ve had police out here for a few weeks and then it’s over.”

Calls for outreach

Afterward, Barr said the police department should do more to hire officers from the community. Beyond that, he said, the city needs to provide more opportunities to young people.

“Bridgeport has nothing to offer but sadness,” he said. “There’s nothing here for our kids.”

City residents Clive Walters and Paul Williams, who happened upon Thursday’s press conference while walking around the neighborhood, agreed.

Walters said leaders need to reach out to the community more.

“First of all, you need to find out what they want. Get a summit with the kids to find out what they really want,” he said.”

Williams said systemic change is needed, and that the community is still reeling from the effects of decades of the war on drugs.

“The reason why there are a lot of drugs being sold in this area is because there’s nothing for anybody to do,” Williams said. “If the cops stopped enforcing the tactics of (the war on) drugs, everybody would feel more free and there’d be less tension and less violence.”

After the press conference, Williams spoke with Ganim briefly, and the mayor said he’d reach out to discuss the issues more.

Others who live in the area said bringing back the substation isn’t a fix-all, but a good first step.

“We need it open and we need foot patrols, a whole lot of them,” Ann Barnes said.

“It’s not going to be enough, but it’s a start,” Deborah Caviness said. “And we have to start somewhere.”