By Claire Bessette
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy gave a ringing endorsement for community policing in Norwich and elsewhere, calling it a "philosophy" rather than a program and saying it has helped to reduce crime throughout the state.
Malloy made his seventh stop in Norwich Wednesday in a statewide tour of cities to discuss urban crime and community policing. The City Council Chambers was crowded with invited guests, including police officers, representatives from the Greeneville Neighborhood Revitalization Zone Committee and neighborhood watch, city and state officials and several teenagers involved in local summer youth programs.
Malloy said that while most homicides occur in the state's larger cities, Norwich has other criminal issues related to drug trafficking, illegal guns and burglaries. Malloy touted the state's efforts to stiffen gun control laws and said federal legislation is needed as well. The nation still does not have universal background checks or national gun tracking laws, he said.
The audience applauded Malloy's comments on the new state gun control laws.
"That wasn't so popular last time I was here," the governor responded, referring to a packed town hall meeting Malloy held in Norwich shortly after passage of the new laws. Gun rights advocates peppered the governor with questions and held up signs criticizing the new laws.
Police Chief Louis Fusaro outlined the city's efforts to revive community policing in neighborhoods such as Greeneville and downtown, with bicycle and beat patrols and public surveillance cameras. Fusaro said the cameras have been especially helpful in Greeneville, giving police a "real time" look at activities there.
Peter Procko, chairman of the Greeneville NRZ, said the cameras made a difference instantly in nighttime criminal activities in the Central Avenue neighborhood.
Malloy said he is a strong advocate of public surveillance cameras.
"No one has the right to privacy to commit crimes in a public place," Malloy said.
Procko admitted that Greeneville had been "a tough neighborhood," but said police efforts and the neighborhood crime watch have made a difference. He especially credited the bicycle patrols and interaction between residents and police.
"We see senior citizens walking to church now," Procko said.
One new aspect of community policing was not addressed at the morning session but was announced shortly afterward. Norwich will now participate in the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority's Police Homeownership Program.
The program will offer a discounted mortgage rate to Norwich police officers who purchase a home in Norwich, as part of a community policing program. Norwich is one of 23 towns in the state participating in the Police Homeownership Program, which is open to local police and state police officers who are either first-time homebuyers or have not owned a home in the last three years.
CHFA also offers similar programs for teachers who teach and will live in Norwich, and for military personnel.
Gary Evans, supervisor of the Norwich community development office, said a representative from CHFA will come to Norwich soon to meet with interested loan applicants.
Several youths and teens who participate in a summer program co-sponsored by the Norwich Youth Services Bureau and the Greater Norwich Area Anti-Bullying Coalition attended the forum and asked questions of the governor.
"It's the best experience of my life," said Alexyss Fuller, 18, a youth mentor and teen summer employee in the program.
She asked the governor to ensure that grant-funded programs such as the summer program she's in is allowed to continue.
Malloy acknowledged the work of the Bully Busters program, which has lobbied in Hartford for stronger anti-bullying laws. He said bullying has been a topic of discussion in all three years of his first term as governor.
"Cutting bullying has a long-term effect on our society," Malloy said.
So does feeding children and helping struggling families, Norwich Human Services Director Beverly Goulet said. She told the governor that collaboration among agencies is critical to helping families get jobs and become stable.
"I think youth violence has everything to do with the breakdown in families," Goulet said.