A Public Health Approach to Gun Violence
City leaders understand that for the new economy to succeed in bringing and keeping young professional and families in Bridgeport, safety is paramount; people need to feel secure in their homes and walking the streets. Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch acknowledges that the city’s high number of illegal guns is a problem that needs to be fixed.
“If the streets aren’t safe, it doesn’t matter how green your city is,” Finch says.
The Bridgeport Police Department views gun violence as a public safety concern and a public health issue, particularly given that the city’s hospital emergency rooms regularly treat gunshot wounds.
“If it was any other disease, we would look at it clinically and we would say to ourselves, ‘Well, what are the causes, what do we do to prevent it?,’ ” says Assistant Police Chief James Nardozzi. The problem is “not something we’re going to arrest our way out of. Simply putting people in jail is not going to stop this.”
The police department is getting guns off the streets through a “buy back” program to incentivize the return of illegal weapons while partnering with community groups to address the underlying causes of violent behavior. A program called Project Longevity offers a deal to young offenders with long rap sheets for multiple violent crimes: If they pledge and follow through on a commitment to stop violent acts, they can get help putting their lives back together. That could mean assistance with finding housing, job training, educational help or addiction treatment. Another initiative, StreetSafe, tries to stop gang violence by sending trained workers into neighborhoods to mediate conflict.
Early returns on these innovative approaches are promising. In 2014, violent crime in Bridgeport declined by 15 percent compared with 2013, higher than the statewide 10.8 percent decline over that year. In 1991, Bridgeport reported 62 homicides; in 2014, it had 12.