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Helping Hartford Prosper

photo of James RovellaHartford, Connecticut, could teach the country something about building on success. In July of 2011, James Rovella, then the Chief Inspector for the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney, confronted the city’s high number of shootings by forming a multi-jurisdictional Shooting Task Force (STF). The STF is the product of local, state, and federal cooperation, and has reduced homicides in the city by 30 percent. The remarkable success of the task force has given the department a good deal of momentum.

Now serving as the city’s chief of police, James Rovella has channeled that momentum into a new initiative. Enter PROSPER, or Preventing Recidivism through Organized Supervision, Partnerships, and Enhanced Relationships.

PROSPER is an innovative new probation program that pairs up police officers with probation officers and assigns the teams to the city’s most violence-prone cases. The Hartford Police Department (HPD) and the Court Support Services Division of the state of Connecticut believe that PROSPER will create well-equipped teams to help probationers stay out of trouble. PROSPER compliments the work of the STF in their combined efforts to connect with communities, deter crime, and make Hartford a safer city.

However, it is important to ask the following question: What makes PROSPER different from a more standard probationary program?

Typically, a probationer is accustomed to meeting with a single probation officer bi-weekly. PROSPER employs a more specialized brand of supervision, which is carried out by the city’s Community Service Officers (CSO) in partnership with a probation officer. By partnering a CSO with a probation officer, PROSPER has assembled a team of peace officers with an intimate knowledge of both the offender and the community from which that person comes.

The unique aspect of police participation includes a mandatory once-a-month meeting between the offender and his CSO in addition to bi-weekly meetings with the probation officer. This is a measurable step towards effectively monitoring probationers and keeping them away from criminal associations.

Sergeant Winston Brooks of HPD’s Vice, Intelligence, and Narcotics Division says that the contact will “provide the probationer with an additional avenue to discuss needs that may arise.” Sgt. Brooks added that “the regular contact and communication with the CSO will serve as a reminder to the probationer to adhere to their stipulated conditions and not get involved with any type of criminal activity.”

The work of PROSPER is made possible by the combined efforts of HPD marked patrol units, the Shooting Task Force, Community Court partners, State Attorney’s Offices, Superior court cooperation, social agencies, and Executive Director William Carbone of the Court Support Services Division of the State of Connecticut.

image of hartford police car lined upOne agency HPD partnered with was the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management, with whom Hartford examined the rankings for the most violence-prone offenders over the last decade. They found that the 100 most violent offenders were either deceased or serving lengthy prison terms. The next 700, however, displayed a pattern of probationers. Further, these probationers had the highest likelihood of becoming the next victim or perpetrator of crime.

Chief Rovella saw an opportunity to disrupt the cycle that was driving violent crime in Hartford. “We began to explore developing police resources [as] a coin with double sided heads where we can’t lose. We discussed the concept of police reacting or responding to crime but we needed to turn our efforts to preventing crime as well.”

Initially, the program was met with skepticism by the city’s CSOs. While the HPD has been successfully engaging the city’s 17 distinct neighborhoods for years, the notion of extending courtesies to known probationers was met with reluctance. This made them realize that the type of policing needed to make a program like PROSPER work involved adjusting the operational mentality of involved officers.

For instance, an officer who notices a bag of marijuana while checking up on a probationer would be inclined to arrest the individual for the infraction. Under PROSPER, officers are instructed to confiscate the drug and suggest a rehabilitation service in conjunction with the assigned probation officer. Despite initial hesitation, officers soon saw the value in choosing to open a dialogue with a probationer and their family over punishing them for minor infractions.

PROSPER began in 2012 with 90 of the city’s most difficult cases. The 90 participating offenders represent roughly 2 percent of the city’s 4,300 current probationers. Although the program has only been in service for less than a year, the early results have been promising enough to warrant plans for expansion to all 17 of the city’s neighborhoods. With the program approaching the one year mark, the HPD can proudly display the results of their hard work.

Out of the initial 90 participants, 68 are still observing the terms of their probation and three more have already successfully graduated from the program. Of the remaining 19 probationers, 14 violated the terms of their probation, two have moved out of the city, two were lost in fatal incidents, and one was removed from the program at the discretion of the department.

As a whole, this sample carries a recidivism rate of 13.5 percent for offenders who have been on probation for 12 months. By comparison, the Office of Adult Probation reports that the 12-month recidivism rate for the state of Connecticut is around 30 percent. Probationers involved in PROPSPER are faring considerably better than their counterparts without equitable police and community supervision.

At the moment, there are 68 active probationers being monitored by a team of 18 CSOs and their probation officer partners. By June 30, the HPD will have expanded the program to 20 CSOs working with over 200 probationers.

photo of Hartford Police Department brigadePROSPER will not only be expanding in size and coverage, but variety as well. For instance, to help work with spiritual probationers, the department has recently assigned three faith-based CSOs. The latest innovation will be the introduction of four business-based CSOs to serve commercial communities. The diversity of CSOs will ensure that probationers and their families will always be in touch with an officer they deem approachable and responsive. While the police cannot be a substitute for a probation officer, they provide useful manpower and a community-oriented attentiveness to the probationary system.

As for the relationships that have been forged between police and the community as a result of PROSPER, the simplest anecdotes are the most telling. After initiating contact with a probationer, officers will exchange phone numbers with the offender and his family. A concerned relative of a probationer decided to call their assigned CSO, and asked them to drop by the house. The officers, of course, responded. Seemingly mundane occurrences such as this are common in PRSOPER and are indicative of the trust that it has developed in the communities it serves.

The reality is this: Hartford is safer, the correctional system is less burdened, and with a little extra supervision and a personal touch, lives are being restored, free of crime. Such attentive and responsive action is a pillar of community policing, and with the added effort, Hartford may become a model of recidivism prevention. The HPD’s recent initiatives are keeping guns off the street and probationers out of jail. By any account, Hartford is on a favorable trajectory for future violent crime reduction.

Ben Wurtzel
Special Contributor
The COPS Office

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Hate Crime Reporting | New Ideas to Common Practices | MSP Youth Leadership Academy | Helping Hartford Prosper | 2013 L. Anthony Sutin Civic Imagination Award | IACP and CSCP Award