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New Haven - The nation's top prosecutor and other officials announced a new effort Tuesday to reduce gun violence in Connecticut's major cities by directly engaging violent groups with warnings and offers of assistance to change.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and David Fein, the top federal prosecutor in Connecticut, said Project Longevity has begun in New Haven and will be expanded to Bridgeport and Hartford. Eventually it may be implemented statewide, a first for the program, officials said.
"By identifying and targeting the groups that are responsible for violence throughout this city, and, eventually, the entire state of Connecticut, Project Longevity will send a powerful message to those who would harm their fellow citizens that such acts will not be tolerated, that they will be swiftly met with clear, predictable consequences, but also that help is available for all those who wish to break the cycle of violence and gang activity," Holder said in New Haven.
The program, hailed as successful in reducing violence in other cities such as Chicago and Cincinnati, involves meetings in which authorities, local leaders and social service providers warn those involved in violence it is unacceptable and will be met with clear enforcement consequences. They are offered help, including educational, medical, housing and employment, to transition out of a gang lifestyle.
Connecticut's overall crime rate is at its lowest since 1968. But gun violence remains high in the largest cities, where 94 out of 129 homicides occurred last year.
Most gun violence involves gangs and drug crews, authorities said. Officials noted that many of the victims are children, including a 3-year-old girl shot in May in Bridgeport when she was caught in the crossfire of rival gangs and a 1-year-old boy shot in a gang-related drive-by shooting in New Haven.
The children survived and arrests have been made, authorities said.
The strategy, first implemented in Boston in the 1990s, is based on research that found that violence in troubled neighborhoods is caused primarily by a small number of people who are members of street gangs, drug crews and other groups. In New Haven, 19 groups comprised of less than 600 people are responsible for almost all the violent crime, Malloy said.
"Young people are killing other young people often for no discernible reason," Malloy said.
Researchers at Yale University, the University of New Haven and University of Cincinnati studied police and other data and identified those gangs and groups most responsible for violence in New Haven, Fein said. Members from two of those groups were called in to meet Monday to hear presentations from community members, service providers and law enforcement, he said.
"The simple, unified message was clear: The community needs the violence to stop," Fein said.
"There are people who will help you choose a better path and if you don't, the enforcement consequences are certain."
Alicia Caraballo, director of adult education in New Haven who is involved in the initiative, said her 24-year-old son Justin was fatally shot in 2008 in New Haven. She said her son, her only child, "did everything the right way," noting he was a school social worker and administrator.
"Holidays, weddings, graduations, celebrations are always a reminder that my son is not here," Caraballo said.
She said every homicide reminds her of her son's killing and implored those involved in violence to stop. She noted her son's killer will spend the rest of his life in prison.
"We want you to be productive members of our society," Caraballo said. "But if you choose not, there are consequences, and our community and everyone is standing behind that."
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said by implementing the program statewide it could serve as a national model.