MERIDEN — In response to what he called a recent increase in gang-related crimes, Police Chief Jeffry Cossette plans to ask the City Council for $200,000 to reinstate five positions in the Neighborhood Initiative Unit, which was eliminated entirely in September.
On Wednesday, Cossette told the City Council's Public Safety Committee that while he considers the city “safe,” he believes assigning neighborhood officers to areas of the inner-city with the highest call volume will “nip (the shootings) in the bud.”
Cossette read off a list of nine violent crimes — including several shootings — that have occurred since Nov. 1.
“... we believe it to be about three to four people at this point in time that we’re targeting,” he said. “If we’re able to get these individuals off the street, our feeling is that the violence will go down considerably.”
The $200,000 would be enough money to pay for four NI officers and one supervisor, Cossette said.
Cossette believes NI officers are better equipped to curtail the shootings because they are responsible for building relationships to prevent crime, while patrol officers react to problems after they happen. Since he reinstated the community policing unit in 2005, Cossette said it has helped lower the crime rate by about 20 percent.
Cossette didn’t make a formal request for the $200,000 Wednesday, but notified the committee he would ask for the money in the near future.
As a result of cuts the City Council and mayor made to the police budget following a referendum earlier this year, Cossette cut the department’s 12-member Neighborhood Initiative Unit on September 15 and moved those officers back to patrol.
Despite the recent rash of incidents, Cossette said an analysis of crime stats dating back five years show that crime has considerably dropped. Cossette presented the five-year analysis to the safety committee Wednesday at the request of the committee chairman, Democrat Michael Cardona, who said he wanted to address a growing concern in the community about a perceived rise in crime.
Cossette said if the funding is approved by the City Council, he hopes to reassign the NI officers from patrol “within a month.” However, City Manager Tim Coon, who supports Cossette’s request for NI officers, said reinstating the officers in January is unlikely because a resolution has yet to be drafted and would need approval from council subcommittees and then the full council.
The money would pay for the NI officers through the rest of the 2018-19 budget. Cossette said he plans to request funding in his 2019-20 budget request to reinstate all 12 positions.
Councilors on the safety committee questioned Cossette, but didn’t indicate whether they would support the request. Some councilors questioned why patrol officers couldn’t address the rash of incidents.
About 10 residents spoke at the meeting. All supported reinstating the NI officers.
“The rate of crime is down, but in our eyes, it’s going up,” said Holly Wills, president of the Meriden Council of Neighborhoods. “And if we don’t do something soon, the issue is going to get out of control.”
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