City plans to use L+M grant for surveillance cameras, basketball court, playground equipment
New London — Most of a $50,0000 grant from Lawrence + Memorial Hospital to the city will go toward the installation of police surveillance cameras in a New London residential area.
The City Council is scheduled to vote May 1 on the allocation of the funds, which were given to the city last year to fund preventative measures that address social factors that affect health.
If approved, the measure will split the money into three separate uses: $28,000 to pay for up to four surveillance camera systems in the area around the intersection of Blackhall and Prest streets, $13,000 to an urban farming organization to help pay for playground equipment at McDonald Park and $9,000 to pay for improvements to a basketball court outside a police substation on Truman Street.
New London Human Services Director Jeanne Milstein said city staffers sent an email survey to neighborhood associations, church leaders and nonprofit organizations in neighborhoods of New London where police reported high rates of 911 calls to help her determine how to use the money. She said she also collected responses from people living near the intersection of Blackhall and Prest streets in person after the grant was announced.
"We wanted this to be resident-driven, and L+M wanted it that way, too," she said.
New London police Chief Peter Reichard, who has pushed for funding to replace old or broken cameras in the city for several years, said he thinks having video footage of areas with high reported levels of crime will help the department investigate crimes like drug sales or violence.
He said Wednesday that the department has been searching for funding for cameras in the city's downtown area, and said the results of Milstein's survey and his own conversations with city residents led the two department heads to decide to use the L+M money for cameras in the Blackhall Street area. No decision has been made on where the cameras would be installed.
He said the presence of cameras in that neighborhood — where neighbors said they have seen stabbings, shootings and drug activity in recent years — could prevent people from selling drugs or committing violent acts there in the first place.
"These (could) be used as a deterrent in some neighborhoods," he said.
More than 20 people responded to the city's email survey, which asked what residents in the Blackhall Street area love about their neighborhood, what they wish could be different and what ideas they have to make it better.
Milstein said she chose that neighborhood to survey because police told her it was an area with the highest levels of emergency calls.
The responses to the survey included requests for more outdoor spaces for kids to play, lighting improvements and repairs to sidewalks and streets, as well as complaints about drug use and crime.
Milstein said people in those neighborhoods expressed similar ideas when she spoke to them in person, and several residents suggested cameras.
"Cameras came up so much," she said. "Single moms with kids wanting that feeling of safety. Elderly folks."
Reichard said he spoke to police chiefs in Norwich and Bridgeport, who told him that installing cameras in those cities has brought crime levels down. New London police installed surveillance cameras on State Pier and near the ferry terminals in the early 2000s, but Reichard said those cameras are now out-of-date and many don't work or are in such poor shape that the department rarely uses them to investigate crimes or complaints. Officers successfully have used footage from cameras installed on private properties in the city to investigate crimes, he said.
Less crime, city and hospital officials argue, would mean parents might feel more comfortable letting their children outside for exercise and could lead to an improvement in residents' stress levels and mental health.
"If, for example, we started to see a reduction in crime in that area and more people outside and interacting with each other ... if a neighborhood becomes safer, we hope those things will follow," said Laurel Holmes, the director of community partnerships and population health at L+M.
The cameras will make up for the department not having enough officers to send to patrol the neighborhoods on a regular basis, Reichard said.
"That's an area where we continually deploy our resources," he said. "Everybody wants to see a cop, but guess what — we don't have the ability to do that."
On Wednesday evening, residents of the blocks around Blackhall Street were leaving for evening church services, visiting family and stopping in a convenience store near the intersection with Prest Street.
Tanya Anderson was getting into a car to go to church with her mother. Cameras, she said, would not stop the drug use and prostitution she said has become common in the neighborhood since she moved in almost a decade ago.
"They can do whatever they want to, because it's not going to help," she said.
Jayque Moore grew up on Blackhall Street. She was visiting her aunt there on Wednesday with her young daughter, who ran up the sidewalk alongside other children playing and riding bikes as their parents watched from inside.
Cameras could help drive some people committing crimes out of the neighborhood, she said.
"It's going to be what people make it," she said. "It depends on how the person is."
Participants in focus groups from New London and surrounding towns during the 2015 research phase of a community health assessment said they were worried that children were witnessing violence and drug and alcohol use in their neighborhoods.
"Older residents feel that increased law enforcement in a neighborhood leads to a safer environment, but younger residents noted an overall decrease in feeling safe," wrote the authors of the report, a joint project between L+M and Ledge Light Health District to assess the community health needs of the 10 municipalities in the hospital's primary service area.
"Public safety has a profound influence on public health," Milstein said.
Raven Lathern said she had been thinking about moving away from her home on Connecticut Avenue because she is disturbed by the drug use and violence she has seen there. Lathern, a case worker, said she rarely spends time outside her house because while she knows her neighbors, she doesn't know if she can trust the people living on and visiting nearby streets. The more cameras, she said, the better.
"It would definitely help," she said. "Definitely Blackhall is No. 1, and definitely Prest."
The money for the cameras came as the first of two $50,000 grants L+M has donated to the city since its affiliation with the Yale New Haven Health system in September 2016. The two grants were taken out of the hospital's budget for development and community relations, L+M spokesman Michael O'Farrell said.
In 2016, the hospital reported contributing more than $60,000 in financial and in-kind donations to regional housing, education and energy assistance programs and more than $150,000 to nonprofit organizations unaffiliated with the hospital.
Reichard said the police department will spend another $9,000 of the grant money on new blacktop to replace the asphalt parking lot at the police substation on Truman Street. He said money from a recent restaurant fundraiser will go toward new basketball hoops as well as interior improvements and computers for students to use.
The remaining $13,000 is designated for use by FRESH New London, which worked with residents living near McDonald Park to build a garden there, and will be put toward the purchase playground equipment.
FRESH New London Director Alicia McAvay said a group of neighbors of the park said the playground equipment would make it appealing to those who want to let their kids play there instead of using the gardening beds FRESH has installed. McAvay said the money would not cover the cost of the playground equipment but could help FRESH leverage other grants to pay for it.
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