Opinion: Safety of New Haven must be top priority

I struggled writing this op-ed, but as a grandfather, father and retired police sergeant, I must address the mayor’s recent misguided advice to the residents of New Haven. Recently, a resident of our city was the victim of a sexual assault while being held at gunpoint. From my experience as a detective and first responder, I know that sexual assault is a violent crime with devastating effects on its victims. Yet after this horrific event, the mayor’s response was to advise New Haven residents not to lock their doors.

It is never the victim’s fault when a crime occurs, but it is crucial to recognize that there are steps we can take to reduce our risk of becoming a target. Locking our doors is a good practice and increases our personal safety. It is also an effective way to prevent crimes of opportunity. To quote Benjamin Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

In January, this mayor assured the public that the unprecedented violence that has gripped our city was just a spike, not a trend. Yet it was just as apparent then that we are in a continued wave of violence with no end in sight. Every 72 hours, a person in New Haven is shot, and we have already witnessed 11 lives lost to gun violence. It’s only May.

In 2020 this mayor made irresponsible budget cuts that kicked off a cycle of events that have now resulted in a record-low shortage of qualified police officers. With more than 100 vacancies, the New Haven Police Department is too small to operate effectively and efficiently. By the end of the fiscal year, the city will potentially lose an additional 30 officers to retirement, leaving the department running on fumes: low morale, overworked officers and limited resources.

In the same press conference where the mayor advised our residents not lock their doors, he made the profoundly insensitive statement that “[New Haven] is predominantly a safe city.” In a city where safety is dramatically and unevenly distributed, we need a mayor for everyone who knows that safety is not just a privilege. Safety is a right. Just days after the mayor’s press conference, more than 100 bullets were shot in a single weekend.

I have repeatedly asked this administration the same question for three years: "What is the public safety plan?" This administration inherited record-low crime rates from 2014-2019, six years, with a reported total of 842 confirmed shots fired. From 2020-2022, three years, there have been 930 confirmed shots fired. Injuries and deaths due to violent gun crimes are up nearly 55 percent all over the city. There have been 342 nonfatal shooting victims from 2020-2022 and 71 violent gun deaths from 2020 to May 2023. In contrast, during the six years before this mayor took office, 2014-2019, there were 69 violent gun deaths.

We must hold our elected officials accountable for their actions and statements. The mayor’s advice not to lock doors is misguided and dangerous. It also speaks directly to his lack of experience and understanding of the vital role public safety plays in crime management in an urban environment. New Haven needs a mayor who knows firsthand how to implement policies to reduce and prevent crime.

As mayor, I will restore our public safety services, bring true community policing back to our city with genuine interactive partnerships, and champion cutting-edge and proactive public policies to provide preventative crime reduction approaches for every neighborhood. New Haven is a city of communities made up of people and families, and safety is the one right I plan to deliver.

Shafiq Abdussabur, a Democrat, is a retired NHPD sergeant of 21 years and former Beaver Hills Alder currently running for mayor of New Haven. The Democratic primary is on Tuesday, Sept. 12.


Read the full article in the New Haven Register.