Bridgeport PD working to address gun violence
BRIDGEPORT — Police are using pieces of the department’s new technology to help combat some of the gun violence the city has seen in recent weeks, Police Chief Armando Perez said Thursday.
Bridgeport has seen four homicides since Jan. 1 — Razzie Hancock, 39; Eugene Rogers, 50; Eric Salters, 28; and Sujata Lee Edwards, 36. Hancock was stabbed to death; Rogers, Salters and Edwards were killed by bullets.
Police have charged suspects in the deaths of Hancock and Rogers. The chief said detectives are hard at work to solve the two remaining open homicide cases.
“Through ShotSpotter, and our camera system — the Fusion Center — we’re able to make these arrests,” Perez said.
In January, seven people were shot in Bridgeport, one fatally, according to Capt. Brian Fitzgerald. Salters was shot in January but died in February.
For the first week of February, two people have been shot, Fitzgerald said: On Feb. 2, a 34-year-old man was shot multiple times. Edwards was killed Tuesday.
Between Oct. 31, 2018 and Thursday, nine people have been murdered in Bridgeport, eight by gunfire. To compare, in that same roughly 14-week time-frame last year — from Oct. 31, 2017, through Feb. 7, 2018 — the city had three homicides.
In January and February of 2018, three people were killed by gunfire — Jawaun Green, 21; Eric Heard, 19; and Alfanso Anderson, 48. Also in that time, 15-year-old Francine Nyanzanika was stabbed to death.
By the end of February two years ago, three people were dead by bullets in Bridgeport — Alexander Davis, 23; Elianna Cruz, 26; and Michael Watkins, 26. There were two additional homicides in that time — Nidia Gonzalez, 26; and Robert Jones, 61; Gonzalez was stabbed to death and Jones was killed in an assault.
“It’s awful when you lose any life,” Perez said of the violence that has plagued the city. “It’s devastating, despicable.”
So far in 2019, Perez said, the Bridgeport Police Department has gotten 35 guns off the streets, which he said has helped deter at least some gun violence.
“A lot of these guns are coming from down South,” he said. “It’s a big problem.”
The chief said the city’s police force has worked with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to arrest several people allegedly responsible for bringing some of the weapons to the Bridgeport area.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s something,” Perez said.
Violence, guns and youth
Perez said gun use by juveniles has been one of the drivers of street violence. The chief said late December of last year that minors who get their hands on guns in the city don’t care what kind of damage they do.
“The problem is that there’s no consequences to their actions,” Perez said Thursday.
But Capt. Roderick Porter, who oversees the city’s School Resource Officers, said there’s a bigger picture when it comes to youth violence.
“We point out guns, but whether it’s guns, fist fighting or whatever, we have issues with just violence among youth,” Porter said. “The gun is just a tool to commit the violence.”
Porter continued, “The children in a city like Bridgeport have been overexposed to violent situations and it preys on their thinking and they become numb to a lot of it and think that that’s the way they resolve the issues they have with other people.”
Thursday morning, an event at the Margaret E. Morton Government Center addressed youth gun violence in the city. Perez said there was a discussion about the juvenile justice system and how police are hoping to change how juvenile offenders are treated in the eyes of the law.
Later Thursday, Perez gave some context on juveniles caught up in gun violence: He said one of the unidentified minors charged in connection with the murder of 12-year-old Clinton Howell in December 2018 only faces 19 months of house arrest.
“That’s one of the hardest things — how do you explain to somebody’s family that one of the perpetrators is not going to do any time?” Perez said.
Another example, he said, is if a juvenile is caught with a gun in a stolen car, the judge they are brought before often won’t detain them.
“What happens is they get a summons, go to court and are set free on the spot,” Perez said. “And we need to change that.”
He said going forward, the city’s police department needs to open up more of a dialogue about the juvenile aspect of gun violence with the community, prosecutors, Connecticut State Police and federal authorities.
“We want to change things,” Perez said. “We need to take care of our kids.”
Porter, who said he was unable to attend Thursday morning’s discussion, said the SROs have undergone extensive training to understand the root of violence among the students in Bridgeport. In partnership with the city’s Board of Education, Porter said, school security guards have also been introduced to the training.
“I think one of the things we need to do with dealing with youth, is we need to teach our kids more about conflict resolution and de-escalating situations,” Porter said.
These efforts, Porter said, have helped significantly reduce crime in and around the schools and arrests of school-aged youth.
“We’re working to introduce some after-school programs to engage some of the kids,” Porter said. “All of it goes a long way with reducing some of the violence associated with youth.”
He said the city’s D.A.R.E. program focuses on proper and smart decision making when dealing with behavior that could end in violence.
“There are underlying root causes,” of violence, Porter said. “Obviously guns, and easy access to guns, are a huge problem in places like Bridgeport and other communities. But the weapon is just a tool that inflicts the violence.”