Teen on dirt bike dies; driver still in hospital
Mayor says reckless driving on dirt bike and subsequent attack on the motorist are “unacceptable.”
At right, new Police Chief James Lewis speaks to members of the community members at a meeting Thursday night at Wexler-Grant School. The chief said police will begin stopping motorbikes to check driver’s licenses and ownership.
Photo by Brad Horrigan
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Maria Garriga's related story:
New chief says city youths can expect tough policing
By Maria Garriga
NEW HAVEN — New Police Chief James M. Lewis told residents Thursday at Wexler-Grant School that he plans to push an aggressive brand of police work in New Haven, and to crack down hard on organized gangs if indeed they are operating in the city.
"In a 15-day period we had 18 people shot," he said. "That doesn’t mean they’re Bloods (a California-based gang). We don’t know." But the surge in deadly violence among youth requires a forceful response, he said. That means youths who skip school or illegally ride on motor bikes may find themselves getting questioned by officers."
In the week he has been chief, two minors, one 15 and one 14, were discovered to have guns concealed under their shirts while they rode bicycles through the streets.
"I want police officers to be aggressive. They are not social workers," he said.
Lewis drew a picture of what tough policing looks like: Riders on pocket bikes can expect to be stopped to see if they have licenses; suburban drug buyers can expect to have their cars impounded; investigators will hunt for any signs of activity by organized crime groups such as the Bloods; students who leave school without permission may find themselves in a squad car heading for a new "truancy assessment center" at which a counselor will work with them on the root problems pulling them away from school.
But Lewis’ call for "aggressive" police also means that he wants his officers interacting with neighborhood residents and getting to know children on their beat.
Some of these children may find themselves playing basketball with the beat officer, going to a police substation to learn how to use computers, or joining police-led youth groups such as Explorers.
"Let’s give him a chance to turn New Haven around. Let’s give Chief Lewis a chance," said Alderman Greg Morehead, D-22, who convened the meeting.
The 40 to 50 residents who heard him speak at the Wexler-Grant School on Foote Street left with confidence in the new chief.
"We’ve never had a face-to-face meeting with the police chief before. I think the New Haven police are very good," said Harriet Smith, 53, of Butler Street. She felt enraged by the recent mob attack on a driver involved in a fatal bike accident he did not cause, and has had to deal with neighborhood vandals who have gone as far as throw a brick through her bay window.
"Police can’t do everything. We have to get involved," she said.
Ruth Henderson, a community activist from Dickerman Street, echoed that theme. "We have some power as citizens. We have to stick up for each other," she said.
Some residents pointed out to Lewis that the emphasis on aggressive policing could easily have serious consequences in New Haven, as allegations of brutality have been leveled against some officers.
Residents such as Barbara Fair, a community activist who frequently speaks about law enforcement, worried that some police officers may cross from aggressive to abusive.
"How do you define the line? Are they misinterpreting what you mean by aggressive?" asked Fair.
Lewis said that he has faith in the majority of his police force, and that he will insist that all follow the rules.
"Aggressive does not mean excessive. If they violate constitutional rights or use too much force they will have to pay the piper," Lewis said. "I’ve put cops in prison," he said.
He stressed that he has faith that most officers do their jobs well, an"as a group I trust them," and that the surge of guns and violence in New Haven needs an aggressive response.
Maria Garriga can be reached at email@example.com or 789-5726.