Editor's Note: The following comes from Mayor Bob Mezzo's blog:
A regular part of local media coverage involves the inevitable reporting of various crimes that occur in the Borough. The old Naugatuck Daily News local scene section has evolved into online police blotters that readers scan to determine if they know anyone who unfortunately found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Inevitably, people begin to comment about about the collapse of society, particularly when the alleged offense involves strange circumstances and/or foolish behavior. Some residents perceive that the frequency and severity of crime in Naugatuck has increased steadily in recent years.
Some reports of crime in Naugatuck are indeed quite disturbing. One such incident involved multiple gunshots fired outside a Rubber Avenue bar that was triggered by an argument between rival gangs, one based in Waterbury and the other from Bridgeport. Three (3) people were ultimately arrested after someone allegedly shot into a crowd of people gathering outside. The article describing the altercation, however, was printed on January 10, 1986, in the now-defunct Naugatuck Daily News. It involved individuals belonging to motorcycle clubs.
Page Six (6) of the Naugatuck Daily News usually included a “Local Scene” section that described various criminal incidents, arrests and car accidents. In a manner very similar to the police blotter section in the Naugatuck Patch, the January 13, 1986, version of the Local Scene contained the following incidents:
- A suspect arrested for third degree assault, reckless endangerment and threatening after police responded to an individual fighting with his adult sons. The situation apparently escalated as the suspect proceeded toward his truck to obtain a loaded gun.
- A disorderly conduct and breach of peach arrest of a suspect who “was yelling loudly," “began destroying things in the house” and “bit and kicked police officers."
- A domestic incident which initially involved an argument between a suspect, a women and her ex-husband at a residence. ”Both men began to leave, but (the suspect) returned later and banged on the door." After arrest, the suspect “threatened to hang himself in the cell of police headquarters with his shirt and pants.”
Such a series of incidents would undoubtedly yield a plethora of hits and comments if posted in online stories in modern times. Many such comments, some written under anonymous screen names, would claim the end of a our community as we know it and the proverbial coming of the apocolypse. The reality, however, is that various levels of crime have existed in Naugatuck and every other community in this country for many years. While today’s offenses may seem more barbaric than those of years passed, there have been people throughout any community’s’ history that have done some really ridiculous things.
When looking at statistical data, crime in the Borough is actually down from recent years. A page on the Connecticut Department of Public Safety website actually allows viewers to see historical data on crime statistics for every Connecticut community. The direct link to the data does not link properly for me, but viewers can see crime statistics for Naugatuck from 1985 to 2010 by going to the “Summary Data to Query” section; scrolling down to “Naugatuck 1985-2010; and clicking “Run Query." A wealth of other statistical information can be accessed from the site.
From 1990 through 2004, total arrests in Naugatuck were never lower than one thousand one hundred thirteen (1,113 in 1996), peaking at one thousand four hundred ninety six (1,496) in 1991. Total arrests in 2009 numbered one thousand ninety five (1,095) in the Borough. This figure was slightly higher than the arrest figures for 2005 through 2008, which included four hundred forty three (443) on the low end (2006), and eight hundred forty four (844) on the high (2008). Despite the impact of the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, arrests in Naugatuck are still lower than at any time during the 1990 through 2004 years.
Not every statistic is encouraging. A search of the individual year statistics indicates that total offenses increased in 2010 from 2009 levels (665 from 602). They do not, however, indicate a significant increase over previous years as some may believe. Certainly crime is different now than it was in years ago. The influx of different kinds of drugs and computer technology have challenged local law enforcement efforts, and various arrest categories have fluctuated to different degrees over the years. Crime in general, however, has decreased in recent years when compared to statistics from the mid-1990′s.
The overall decrease in crime has coincided with the rise of the Naugatuck Police force into one of the most effective departments in the state. The level of training and expertise in modern crime fighting has never been higher than it is now. From our command staff to our newest officers, the Naugatuck Police Department protects this community in ways that few ever get to witness. What is rarely mentioned in the media is all the crimes that are prevented through such efforts as community policing, undercover investigations and an educated force that makes its collective presence felt throughout the community. During stressful, emergency situations like Tropical Storm Irene and the October snowstorm, they perform at their best. Naugatuck should be very proud of the officers that protect our streets in a professional manner.
The perception of increased crime in Naugatuck is largely driven by the availability of online and social media. Many of the leads in electronic and print media involve the reporting of various crimes. Ask anyone familiar with the media business and you will hear a common theme as to why: crime sells. Detailed stories about complex tax policy, economic development demographic studies or statistical analysis of Connecticut Mastery Test results will never sell as many papers or generate as many internet hits as a headline about a local crime. This is not simply true in Naugatuck, but most local media markets throughout the country. It is also not a criticism of the media, as it the protected right of every media outlet to print what it deems appropriate and in the best interests of its respective business.
A significant difference between today and years passed is the ability for readers to anonymously comment about the people accused of a particular crime and the details. Incredibly, sometimes the suspects themselves and/or their family members fuel the discussion, providing convenient material for law enforcement and prosecutors. Some comments inevitably claim that crime in Naugatuck is increasing and that the community worsens every year. Many argue that Naugatuck is not the same place it was years ago and that the situation is hopeless. While the statistics say otherwise, such sentiments are not unique to the Borough. The :
“You’re one of the lucky ones who got away from the looney tunes bin called fairfield county. not sure why anyone would ever wanna stay for life here. the people are not nice to one another. the prices are high. the cops are a joke. and the kids would do better getting into highly competitive colleges if their was not so much inbred competition here.”
As someone who has lived here for forty one (41) years, I can honestly say that the kinds of incidents that get so much coverage in today’s media have always existed to varying degrees in Naugatuck. It is frustrating and certainly embarrassing for every community that sees a mug shot of one of its own front and center in the media. One generation often thinks it symbolizes that the next group following is different and less responsible, and the apocalypse will soon be upon us. It is not, however, unique to any one city, town or borough. Certainly our community has changed over time, but that has been true throughout our history. As population has increased and the economic opportunity available during the Industrial Era faded, our police have been forced to be more vigilant in protecting our streets from those who turn to irresponsibility and crime.
Most disturbing are the usually anonymous comments that claim that Naugatuck is the new “South Waterbury” or another “Bridgeport.” I think many of us know that such nuanced language contains distasteful and underlying meanings that the demographics of Naugatuck are changing, and that somehow this is the cause of all crime in the Borough. The reality is that this has been true throughout our entire history since our first residents settled along the River. Imagine the “outrage” of the Yankee establishment when Irish and German Catholics first began to arrive in the Borough during the 19th Century. The wave of immigration from all parts of Europe transformed Naugatuck and allowed it to grow from a small farming community to the Rubber Capital of the world. Different groups came at different stages, honoring their own ethnic traditions, but ultimately blending into the social fabric of Naugatuck life. While not without struggle, each wave of new families coming to Naugatuck succeeded because of the economic opportunity that existed and the ultimate acceptance of a welcoming community.
In the coming years, Naugatuck will again be challenged to welcome families that come from many different places and cultural backgrounds. We are becoming a more diverse community, but this is a positive occurrence and certainly does not correlate to an untrue perception of increased crime.
We all want to live in a safe community where instances of crime are rare. Our Police Department is constantly using all resources available to achieve this goal. Like all public safety units throughout the Country, the Naugatuck Police Department faces constant challenges to simultaneously prevent and deter crime while responding to acts of wrongdoing committed in the Borough. Overall statistics indicate that we are making progress to reducing crime in the Borough in recent years. A perspective of the facts is always helpful as we continue our ongoing efforts to fight crime in Naugatuck.
- Naugatuck Mayor Bob Mezzo