Underscoring the seriousness of the message, representatives of Connecticut's entire law enforcement community called in U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to announce the launch of a multi-jurisdictional program designed to dramatically reduce shooting deaths in New Haven, Hartford and Bridgeport.
Last week, Holder was flanked by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, Gov. Dannel Malloy and a roomful of lawmakers, clergy and family members of shooting victims at a New Haven press conference.
The attorney general and others discussed a three-pronged program that will initially focus on gang members. Authorities will identify potential violent offenders, offer them concrete help about changing their lives, and target them for aggressive prosecution if they or fellow gang members commit violent crimes.
To underscore how the initiative differs from normal policing, just hours before the news conference, New Haven authorities had a "call-in" of 27 alleged members of the city's two most violent gangs, all of whom had records or were on probation or parole. In a message that was came from a mixture of love and fear, the gang members were told they had to stop resorting to gun violence or face the prospect of spending the rest of their lives in prison, many states away.
One of the architects of the program, which builds on earlier efforts in Chicago, Cincinnati and other major cities, is Connecticut's U.S. Attorney David Fein. He came up with the name "Longevity" for two reasons, he said in an interview after the Nov. 27 press conference.
"We want this initiative to be sustainable and sustained, and have built a coalition of partners, with many people and offices and agencies engaged," he said. These combine "all of the relevant state and local agencies, each of the cities, their mayors, police chiefs, the state, the governor and the legislature, all of whom play a role in combating violent crime, including ATF, FBI and the U.S. Marshals' Service...
"Longevity is also meant to symbolically represent the lives of the people in these affected communities the youth at the center of the violent crime that we're seeking to eliminate," Fein added. "Both the age of the shooters and their victims is alarmingly low."
Holder said that by identifying and targeting the groups that are responsible for violence throughout New Haven and the state's other urban areas, "Project Longevity will send a powerful message to those who would harm their fellow citizens: that such acts will not be tolerated; that they will be swiftly met with clear, predictable consequences."
He also held out an alternative: "Help is available for all those who wish to break the cycle of violence and gang activity."
Although violent crime in general has been decreasing in Connecticut, there has been no letup of urban gun killings, said Michael Lawlor, the top crime policy official in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration. Last year, there were 129 Connecticut homicides, of which 94 occurred in New Haven, Hartford and Bridgeport.