Is crime going down or unreported in New London?
Certainly, the meeting this week before a committee of the New London City Council, in which a chorus of city police officials, past and present, raised their voices in alarm over what they called the demoralized state of the police department, was disturbing.
Even City Councilor Anthony Nolan, a police officer himself, reported on the dysfunction of the department and said he feels safer in the community than in the police station.
One 34-year veteran of the department says things are worse than he's ever seen them, and he's worked under five chiefs.
Demoralized officers, they said, are fleeing the department in droves.
More troubling to me, though, were reports I have heard raised privately among police lately that crime in the city has been going unreported.
Some in the department say this covering up of crime stems from a directive from Mayor Daryl Finizio saying that all crime press releases have to go through the mayor's office. This, they said, has directly resulted in less public reporting of criminal incidents.
Indeed, when I ran a search through The Day email server of press releases from the deputy police chief, who routinely handles questions from the press, there has been a clear decline in releases recently.
I only found a handful of police press releases for June, and one was the announcement of a "Click It Or Ticket" seat belt enforcement campaign.
There have been times in the not-so-recent past that the deputy chief was sending out press releases daily or even more than once a day, on all kinds of crimes, big and small.
There are fewer press releases, the mayor said, after I asked whether he was tamping down crime reports, because crime is going down.
The mayor specifically mentioned the major drug raids conducted in April, which has recently lowered the amount of drug-related crime and crime overdoses.
I also made a Freedom of Information request for recent emails from the mayor's office to the police department, to check out reports that the mayor had sent a directive to clear police crime press releases through him.
The mayor's office produced four emails, none directing that crime press releases be approved by the mayor.
They also sent along a copy of a May 20 memorandum to all department heads telling them that all information given to the public or city councilors would have to go through the mayor.
The mayor told me this memo was related to some confusing remarks about the budget and police staffing made by the police chief to the City Council during budget deliberations.
He said the memo was crafted to remind all department heads that public information has to go through him. But he said it was definitely not intended to apply to routine crime press releases.
He has made it a policy since he took office, he said, to be involved in public disclosures of major crimes and not to interfere with the reporting of routine criminal incidents.
Negotiations with the police union, over a contract that expires this month, and the approaching election season for City Council candidates, is no doubt coloring the discussion of the state of the police department.
And certainly, the city police union and the administration are at odds in assessing the state of crime in the city, since one side wants more police boots on the street and the other side wants fewer, to accommodate a leaner budget.
It is too early for federal crime statistics to prove who is right.
Let's just hope the mayor's got it right and that crime is going down at an opportune time.
Imagine if it were going up at a time when officers were fleeing a dysfunctional, demoralized department.
This is the opinion of David Collins.
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