The statistics are stark, Lawlor said in an interview. For example, in New Haven, he said, "98 percent of the victims of those shootings have been African-American men."
Last week's "call-ins," to warn those deemed most likely to shoot or be shot, is the culmination of six months of police and community study. Law enforcement scholars worked with police to carefully identify a population of about 550 of New Haven's citizens deemed most likely to kill or be killed with guns. The approach is based in large part on the academic writings of David M. Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. Kennedy, author of Don't Shoot, designed a Boston project credited with reducing gun violence there by 60 percent.
The proposed scope of Project Longevity statewide instead of city-based would make it a national first, said Fein. More preparation is underway to extend the program to Hartford and Bridgeport, with no set timetable, he said.
Lawlor said the targeted population of about 550 of New Haven's most dangerous and endangered has selected itself, through a history of violent acts. "We've been working on this for six months in New Haven, and a lot of intelligence gathering and coordination has been involved." The program combines equal parts law enforcement and community-based services. "So these guys have been given an escape hatch if they want to crawl through it. It's their option, and we hope they do it," he said.
The young men were given a single contact to go to for help in finding job training, education, health care and other services to change their lives for the better. This could even include leaving town to start afresh elsewhere, if they desire.
"But if they don't, and if somebody in their crew shoots somebody, they're all going to pay the price," Lawlor said. "They were told in no uncertain terms. Two groups have been feuding with each other and creating the most carnage in New Haven, so we started with them. We made it very clear you'll spend the rest of your life in prison. If your group is responsible for one more shooting, all of you will be locked up for as long as possible. Probably in a federal prison, probably in Montana somewhere. So you're on notice."
The state legislature approved $500,000 to help fund Project Longevity's initial research. About $130,000 in discretionary federal grants as well as $50,000 provided through the U.S. Department of Justice's Project Safe Neighborhoods is also being used.
New Haven criminal defense lawyer William Dow III said there have historically been "very effective" federal-state enforcement initiatives in Connecticut, such as one focused on Jamaican druglords during the 1990s. But that program, like many past enforcement efforts, was short-lived.
"When I was a young lawyer in the [Federal Public Defender's] office, they prosecuted the Jungle Boys in New Haven," said criminal defense attorney Richard Reeve, of Sheehan & Reeve. "The government said we're going to do all this urban renewal, we're not just here to prosecute and take them off the street. But for every kid the government takes off corners, there are ten more waiting to fill that spot. Good luck to 'em."
Reeve said the war on drugs has done more harm than good to communities. To the extent that it has shifted to a war on gun violence, that's a move in the right direction, he said. But, Reeve added, "there are still neighborhoods in New Haven, where if a young person doesn't want to join a gang, he can be beaten up every day. What program is addressing that?" he asked.