Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Brutal home invasion rattles neighborhood

By William Kaempffer
Register Staff
— East Rock residents, shaken by a brutal home invasion in the affluent neighborhood, looked for answers on what happened and pressed police brass for answers on why, in their view, the neighborhood is under-policed.
“We need to know what to do to help prevent this, and the other thing is how do we get police to come when we call them?” asked resident Constance LaPalombara. The question became the refrain during a sometimes contentious two-hour meeting, shown above, Monday held about two blocks from where a 55-year-old woman was beaten with a baseball bat during a burglary last week.
Nearly 100 people from both sides of Prospect Hill turned out for the community meeting convened by Alderwoman Alfreda Edwards. Earlier in the day, a second teen was arraigned and held on $500,000 bail for the April 29 attack. A third assailant has not yet been charged.
For many in East Rock, the ongoing frustration is a perceived lack of police presence and slow response and those frustrations were laid bare as they peppered police with questions about staffing levels.
The neighborhood, the city’s wealthiest, is in a policing district with Newhallville, which has a much higher crime rate and can drain a lot of the police resources, and residents say they suffer as a result.
David Leffell, a surgeon, director of the Yale Medical Group and St. Ronan Street resident, said he stopped calling police after a third break-in at his home. He said he was told by police they wouldn’t respond because they were too busy with other, more pressing emergencies.
“I think those of us who live in New Haven understand that we live in an urban area that has many problems. ... On the other hand, we are entitled to a candid and direct explanation for the maldistribution of resources and an explanation for what the plan is to improve safety in this neighborhood,” he said.
There’s no question the department is short-staffed with 397 cops, a 100 below budgeted levels, said Acting Chief Stephanie Redding. Those shortages are offset by hiring officers on overtime and as many as 55 recruits start training this month.
As for deployment, she said, the department analyzes crime trends daily and and assigns officers based on that and “human need” rather than property value.
Police said the attack at 97 Loomis Place looked to be a crime of opportunity and detectives haven’t determined yet whether the intruders entered through an open door or broke in. There was no kicked-in door or broken window, police said.
The victim, Julia O’Sullivan, suffered two broken hands and head injuries from the attack.
Hao Phan, of Prospect Street, felt responsible. That same night, he was watching the NBA playoffs when he heard a loud bang on his gate, looked out and saw three or four males outside. The gate was locked. He didn’t call police and worried Monday whether a phone call might have pre-empted the attack down the hill.
“It was my fault. I should have called somebody,” he said. “If I wasn’t careful that night (locking the gate) I’m sure I would have been the victim instead of the poor lady on Loomis Place.”
The packed cafeteria at Celentano School had an interesting dynamic, with residents from both sides of Prospect Hill bringing very different concerns about safety. The ward included part of Newhallville on one side of Prospect Street and a section of East Rock with its million-dollar homes on the other.
A Newhall Street resident complained about the open air drug dealing that happened across from her house and the frequent gunfire. After listening to the East Rock concerns, another Newhallville resident defied them to walk in her shoes for a day.
“I don’t mean to minimize what’s going on over here on your side of town and I feel badly for the person that got injured,” she said, declining to give her name, “but if you step over onto the other side of the hill, you’ve got every day stuff looking at your face. You even have drug dealers talking to you, telling you ‘What are you saying? What do you mean we can’t be on this corner? Who are you?’”
Police Officer Joseph Avery, a neighborhood specialist, said police researched city home invasions and found six over the last two years with most having undertones of drug activity. Loomis Place was the lone, true home invasion committed by strangers.
It looked like an isolated incident, police said.
“What if it turns out to be a seminal event?” asked Leffell.
“It can happen again tonight. It can happen again two years from now,” responded Redding. What police can do, she said, is formulate a strategy to best prevent it.

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