Rape takes center stage in New London

The scene of a rape reported about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, July 20, 2013, that occurred in the area of the fire escape off an alley on Pearl Street between Eugene O'Neill Drive and Bank Street in New London.
The scene of a rape reported about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, July 20, 2013, that occurred in the area of the fire escape off an alley on Pearl Street between Eugene O'Neill Drive and Bank Street in New London. Sean D. Elliot/The Day

It was late one night about two weeks ago when a woman reported to police that she had been confronted and dragged into an alley near the municipal parking lots in downtown New London, where she was attacked in a brutal sexual assault.

The incident was reported about 1:30 a.m. on a Saturday, as patrons were leaving nearby downtown bars.

According to police, the attacker was described as an "extremely fat" black male with a shaved head, in his 40s, 5 feet 9 inches tall, who was wearing a white shirt and dark-colored sweatpants.

Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard told me this week that police have a suspect in the case, and they hope that DNA samples may help them make an arrest.

I asked about the rape because it has become grist in the city's churning conversations, one part of a discussion in which the police union and its supporters have been accusing Mayor Daryl Finizio of understaffing the police department, leaving the city unsafe.

A Ledyard-based conservative talk radio station has taken up the cause, unleashing long, daily rants about crime in the city and the reported downtown rape.

One has to wonder how gruesome details about the precise nature of the rape have leaked out. They are now widely known and even part of routine coffee shop conversations around the city.

The radio hosts, in their unrelenting and vigorous attacks on the city, have called it a cesspool that is about to start leaking criminals into surrounding suburbs. One has called for a boycott, saying people should stay out of New London altogether because of the crime.

Curiously, according to Reichard, statistics show that crime has actually gone down in the city. "Indexed" things like assault, robbery and burglary reported to police by victims have declined, the deputy chief said.

The critics of the department administration say it is natural that crime rates are going down since there are fewer police officers. But, of course, that is not the case. People would not be reporting fewer crimes because there are fewer officers. If your car is stolen, you are still going to report it.

Reichard did say he would expect crimes that require police investigations to resolve, such as drug arrests, might start to go up as the result of the reduced size of the force.

Reichard said he would like to see a budget increase for the department and more new officers hired. But he said the department is also looking at other policing options, like improving lighting downtown and installing surveillance cameras.

I also asked Reichard about the complaints that the police did not officially disclose the downtown rape, at the outset, only confirming it three days later, when a reporter from The Day asked.

He said police had identified two possible suspects, based on the description from the victim, and did not want to compromise the prospects of a timely arrest.

Reichard noted that the rape appeared to be random. He called it an isolated incident or "crime of opportunity" and not part of any pattern.

He added that the department's system for reporting crime to news media does not always work well, and they are exploring the idea of resuming the release of incident logs to the press, so that reporters can make specific inquiries about anything that is listed.

Naturally, this is a classic standoff in the trade. Newspapers always want police to make everything public. Police departments tend not to want to tell us anything, except when they make an arrest.

The city election season is upon us. And it is fine and appropriate to have some debate about how big the police department should be and how much the city should spend on law enforcement.

In fact, it's a great dialogue to have in a strapped small city trying to decide how and where to allocate limited resources.

But leave the innocent rape victims out of it.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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