Last July, Hartford was becoming what many called a war zone.
There were 78 shootings and 19 homicides in just the first half of the year, well ahead of the city's annual pace.
That's when the second Hartford Police Shooting Task force was formed. Department statistics indicate this one is making a bigger difference than the one formed in 2008. Shootings are down by roughly a quarter, murders down by half, according to the department.
"It's a little better," said Mary Bethea Campbell, a Hartford resident.
While the task force has seized guns, made motor vehicle stops and conducted surveillance, what's different about the task force is its prevention, zeroing in on a small subset of people involved in guns, drugs and often gangs, who investigators believe commit the bulk of the shootings.
"We believe we have about 100 to 125 individuals, at any given time in the city, that have a higher propensity for violence than the rest of the population," said Police Lt. Lance Sigersmith.
Sigersmith says it's not your typical criminal roundup, it's a layered strategy where police, prosecutors, and parole, probation, and correction officers speak with the offenders often and get into their heads.
"We didn't get you this time, but maybe next time. Maybe the next time you think about it, committing an act of violence, you're going to think about us first," he said.
James Rovella, who was recently named acting Hartford Police Chief due in part to his task force's success, is also focusing on another group in Hartford, the roughly 700 people just out on probation. He recently met with Hartford Community Service officers to get them involved.
"We knock on their doors. Build a relationship with them; build a relationship with their mothers. Build a relationship with their baby's mother. Or their father. Whoever is in the household," he said.
During one of the three nights we spent with the task force, we found ourselves flying across the city to the south end, where a patrol unit had just nabbed two of three masked suspects with heavy duty weaponry; a tech 9 semi-automatic, a handgun, and a sawed-off shotgun. Task force members recognized the suspects right away and took them for questioning.
In the past detectives with less background on the men might have been doing the interviews.
"It's easy to lie to somebody when they know nothing about you. But when you know everything about them, it's hard for them to be deceitful," Sigersmith said.
A big focus of the task force is to look into cases that were under investigated since there was no loss of life or injuries.
The task force believes those incidents, and actual shootings or shots fired, provide information about the next shooting, thereby predicting where the violence will occur.
"I analyze statistics, the lieutenant analyzes statistics, and then we go back and we see that our most violent offenders are not only our shooters, but they're our victims also. They're the most likely to be shot," Rovella said.
The shooting task force's ability to diminish violent crime has been noticed by some who have actually referred to the unit in a YouTube rap song.
Another part of the task force's full court press on violent crime is taking away the shooters' tools.
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