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Officials seek answers after recent acts of youth violence in New London

By Kathleen Edgecomb

Publication: The Day

Published December 02. 2010 4:00AM   Updated December 02. 2010 4:44AM

New London - Some city officials are looking within as they try to determine why teenagers have committed a number of violent acts on city streets this fall.

"Something has caused the violence to escalate,'' said City Councilor Wade Hyslop, who is also the pastor at Trinity Missionary Baptist Church. "What it is, I don't know. We have to talk with those involved and find out why these young people are so angry."

Mayor Rob Pero immediately suggested that various groups get together to talk about the violence and young people who exhibit violent behavior.

"My concern is, are we treating the issues relative to the cause of the anger,'' Pero said Wednesday. "You expect some crime within a community. What you don't usually expect is the age levels we've seen and the degree of violence. Who would stab someone six times?"

Hyslop agreed with Pero's suggestion that the community come together to seek solutions but said that getting the right people involved matters.

"My question is, who are the players we want around the table?'' he said, suggesting that parents and youngsters who are most affected by the violence be included.

"I believe you have to have a genuine burden for the problems going on,'' Hyslop said. "We need to take a hard-core look at the problems and ask ourselves what do we need to do to bring these groups together."

City officials have had mixed reactions to the arrests Tuesday of six teenagers who allegedly attacked and stabbed to death 25-year-old Matthew Chew on Oct. 29 for no apparent reason.

Councilor Michael Buscetto III, chairman of the public safety committee, said the blame for the youth violence lies with Police Chief Margaret Ackley.

"We had a safe city a year ago. We had a safe city two years ago,'' said Buscetto, who supported another candidate for police chief when longtime Chief Bruce Rinehart retired in 2009.

"We have a new chief, a deputy chief, a mayor who's supportive and a city manager saying everything is OK. Well, it's not OK," Buscetto said. "I've questioned the appointment of the chief from the beginning."

He said it is not a popular position to question the chief of police, but to him, Ackley's management style is not working.

"They're saying the streets are safer, but they're not. They're getting more dangerous, and it's the responsibility of the chief, the city manager and the mayor."

Ackley responded to Bus-cetto's criticism by saying she supports the mayor's proposal to bring various groups together.

"We are working with the schools and other community leaders and will continue to address concerns as they develop,'' she said Wednesday night.

City Manager Martin H. Berliner, who hired Ackley over Police Capt. William Dittman, who was also a candidate for the top police position, defended Ackely and said Chew's murder does not mean the city is unsafe.

"We have a good police department and a good chief who does a good job,'' he said. "We identified the people involved relatively quickly, and it's entered the court system."

He called the murder an isolated incident.

"It was a random act of violence. That's what it was. We can't get around that. It was unfortunate for everyone involved.

"But, and this is from my heart, this is still a very safe, walkable city. You don't stop going to New York or Washington, D.C., because of an occasional random act of violence."

Councilor Martin T. Olsen, who is poised to become the city's ceremonial mayor next week, said that besides the murder and the incident on Sunday, he has not seen an increase in violence in the city.

"I'm not saying things aren't happening,'' he said, adding that violence occurs all over the country, from small towns to big cities. "If anything, I'd say we had nothing but good stuff going on in New London.''

Olsen said he has not heard that residents are afraid or that there is an increase in violent crime.

"I think there is an appearance that there is more going on than there really is,'' he said. "This case has gotten a lot of coverage, and rightly so.''

What's disconcerting, he added, is that today's youth seem to resort to more violent behavior when they are bored.

While there are opportunities for young people in the city, getting them interested and participating is another matter and needs to be addressed, he said.

"You can offer these things and encourage them, but you can't make them participate,'' he said.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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