Norwich, New London police note uptick in stabbings

Police are seen at the 22 Grand St. home where a man was found stabbed in New London on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017. The man later died at the hospital, marking New London's second fatal stabbing in a week.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Police are seen at the 22 Grand St. home where a man was found stabbed in New London on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017. The man later died at the hospital, marking New London's second fatal stabbing in a week. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

First there was the Oct. 21 stabbing, apparently fueled by jealously, that left Carlos Gayle in critical condition in Norwich.

Three days later, police say an intoxicated man used a kitchen knife to take the life of Raheeim General, a 33-year-old New London man.

November wasn’t exactly quiet, with one serious knife attack reported in New London and two minor stabbings taking place in Norwich.

On Dec. 10, a man known to police for carrying knives is charged with fatally piercing Robert Pomerleau, a 49-year-old who had been staying in his New London apartment.

Just one week later, New London saw another fatal stabbing. With his last breaths, 27-year-old Travon Brown implicated his longtime friend in the killing. 

With so many high-profile incidents in such quick succession, residents and police alike are asking the same question: Is the region seeing an uptick in stabbings?

The answer is complicated. In Norwich, for example, the number of knife-related assaults has bounced between 12 and 22 over the past six years, with no rhyme or reason.

According to data from The William W. Backus Hospital, staff did treat more stab wounds last year than in 2016, at eight and three, respectively. Staff also treated four gunshot wounds in 2017 compared to seven in 2016.

Numbers for years prior to that, however, weren’t immediately available.

In New London, police couldn’t release numbers for the full year of 2017 because they hadn’t yet been verified. From 2012 through 2016, knife-related assaults in the city trended downward, with a high of 63 in 2012 compared to 36 in 2016.

Data source: Connecticut Department of Public Safety

According to police Capt. Brian Wright, however, numbers from the first half of 2017 put the city on pace to see an uptick in assaults.

Statewide, the most notable trend is in murders. In 2012, firearms were used in about 70 percent of murders — not including those that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown — and knives were used to commit 11.6 percent.

In 2016, perpetrators used guns in 63 percent of murders, but knives in 15.8.

Connecticut, it should be noted, typically sees between 12 and 17 fatal stabbings per year. Last year, New London accounted for three of those.

'A weapon of opportunity'

Locally, the stabbings have caught police officers’ attention.

“We were just talking about that here,” Norwich police Chief Patrick Daley said this past week. “There definitely have been more stabbings than shootings.”

According to Daley, preliminary statistics show the city had 18 knife-related assaults in 2017. That’s a 50 percent increase over 2016 numbers, but still down from 22 in 2014, the city’s five-year high.

Data source: Connecticut Department of Public Safety

Daley said it’s hard to know what drives the trends in stabbings and even harder to prevent them.

Is it statewide gun control laws? Are officers getting more firearms off the streets regionally? Could it simply be that knives are more accessible?

“There’s a lot to it,” Daley said, calling stabbing a “crime of passion.”

He said officers do arrest people they find carrying exceptionally large knives but more often than not the knives people carry are perfectly legal.

“Unfortunately there’s not a lot we can do,” he said of preventing stabbings. “We’re not in people’s houses.”

In New London, Wright described the knife as “a weapon of opportunity.”

In at least three of the city’s past four stabbings, he said, the perpetrator appears to have used a knife solely because that’s what was available — not because it was ideal.

Take the murder of Raheeim General, for example. Witnesses said the alleged killer, Metese Hinds, was “not himself” on the night of the stabbing at 49-51 Blackhall St. The pair had been drinking shots of liquor and arguing before Hinds grabbed a kitchen knife from his friend’s apartment and began stabbing General, according to police.

Police said Hinds was under the influence of alcohol, cocaine and opiates at the time of the incident.

Wright said police aren’t running any programs that target firearms at the moment. Officers, however, have seized some guns during recent quality-of-life initiatives, he said. Those initiatives tend to target drug-related activities.

The city, Wright pointed out, also hosted a gun buyback event in 2013, just months after the tragedy at Sandy Hook. The controversial, multi-day event netted about 200 guns — guns that residents complained were being turned in by “nice guys,” not criminals.

According to The Trace — a nonpartisan, nonprofit news site that covers gun violence — at least 237,000, and as many as 350,000, firearms were stolen from lawful gun owners in 2016. Police, The Trace reports, already have begun recovering some of those firearms — most often because the guns were used to commit a crime.

Multiple factors at work

When it comes to crime statistics, multiple factors are at work, according to Professor Emeritus Eli Silverman, who works in the Department of Law and Police Science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

New York City saw its own spike in stabbings in early 2016 — a 20 percent jump that led police to launch “Operation Cutting Edge.” At the time, police described the increase as an irregularity, not a trend. Some criminologists considered the possibility that the stabbings were copycat crimes. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the uptick likely happened because police had seized so many firearms.

Data source: FBI Uniform Crime Reporting

Sometimes, Silverman said, it’s true that upticks in a particular crime are simply statistical blips. But other times, they can be in response to state laws or local law enforcement actions.

If a felon knows police are cracking down on firearms, for example, he or she may be less likely to carry a gun around, Silverman said.

“When you make a push in one area, sometimes it bumps up another,” said Silverman, whose research has focused on the methods police use to record crime statistics. “If you have someone who’s criminally inclined, they’re going to use a weapon. It may not be their weapon of choice, but they will use a weapon.”

l.boyle@theday.com

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