BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Getting guns out of the wrong hands will ultimately stem the tide of deadly violence in Bridgeport, but one community activist said other steps can be taken immediately to keep citizens safer.
Ron Pinciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, met with Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, Police Chief AJ Perez and others Thursday morning to tout the group’s Project Longevity, which he believes will make a short-term difference in the wake of five shooting deaths in as many days in the city.
“This is the best tool, I think, in the toolbox,” he said.
Ganim and Perez addressed the recent shootings — the “wave of violent crimes and comprehensive plans and initiatives to enforce public safety” — at a press conference late Thursday afternoon. They promised increased police patrols — partially thanks to the 24 new officers who were to be sworn in on Thursday evening.
Pinciaro also touted Project Longevity, an initiative started in Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven in 2011.
That year, 75 firearm homicides — 75 percent of all firearm homicides in the state — happened in those three cities, he said. City leaders decided to create a program based on Project Cease Fire in Boston.
The idea is simple: The cities identified the 1,500 to 2,000 people in their communities most at risk of becoming either a perpetrator or a victim of gun violence.
They were brought together in small groups and given a choice: If they stopped the shooting, city leaders and community groups would work to help them get what they needed — whether it was a GED, a job, housing and more.
If they decided to continue on a violent path, the road would not be so easy and all levels of law enforcement — local and state police, drug enforcement and firearms officials — would come down on them as hard as possible.
The results? A year into the program, firearm homicides in the three cities had dropped from 75 to 56, Pinciaro said. By 2016, the number was down to 31.
“The structure of Project Longevity is something we feel can give immediate help,” he said.
The program is still in place in Bridgeport and the other cities, but Pinciaro said the mayor and chief seemed receptive to re-emphasizing it. Securing ongoing state funding and in-kind resources will be crucial, he said.
“I was very pleased with the reception (at Thursday’s meeting),” he said. “I think the commitment is really there.”
As to the reason for the uptick in gun homicides, especially over the July 4th holiday weekend, Pinciaro said the reasons are myriad and one must look at the long-term situation.
“It’s really hard to just look at a six-month period and just say ‘this world is changing,” he said.
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