Project Longevity launches in Bridgeport

Project Longevity launched in Bridgeport on Oct. 30, with a call-in of 25 people who were given a message to deliver to their neighborhoods.

“First and foremost, the goal of Project Longevity is to reduce violence in our city,” Mayor Bill Finch said. “People need to put down their guns. The goal is not to round up young people and send them to federal prison. We want to help people who want to change their lives. If you make the right choice, we will provide all the support and resources we can to help. But for those who opt to continue to commit violence in our neighborhoods, I will say this: ‘You are on notice.’”

Project Longevity is a violence-reduction strategy that is a partnership with local, state and federal law enforcement, along with community stakeholders and social service providers. The model has been successful in reducing gun violence in multiple neighborhoods across the country. Last year, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced that the initiative would be implemented statewide.

“The ground rules have changed in Bridgeport,” Police Chief Joseph L. Gaudett Jr. said. “For people who want to break away from the cycle of violence and gangs, we extend our hand. For those who don’t, we made the consequences clear.”

A key component of the strategy is the “call-in,” a face-to-face meeting where partners engage group members and deliver certain crucial messages. The first one is that group members are part of a community, that gun violence is unacceptable and that the community needs it to end.

The second message states that help is available to all who will accept it in order to transition out of the gang lifestyle, and that social service providers are standing by to assist with educational, employment, housing, medical, mental health and other needs.

Third, the message points out that any future violence will be met with clear and certain consequences. The next time a homicide is traced to any member of a violent group, all members of that group will receive increased and comprehensive law enforcement attention to any and all crimes any of its members are committing.

During the first call-in, approximately 25 people involved in gang-related activity heard the Project Longevity message from senior leadership of the Bridgeport Police Department, federal and state prosecutors, clergy and other members of the Bridgeport community.

“We know that we can reduce the number of shootings in our cities using national best practices like Project Longevity,” Malloy said. “Community leaders in Bridgeport have done an outstanding job creating real opportunities for at-risk young people. At the same time, these leaders have joined local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in delivering this clear message: Put the guns down. The state of Connecticut will continue to stand behind these efforts.”

Project Longevity is based on the Group Violence Reduction Strategy developed by the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

The research behind the strategy, which was first implemented in Boston as “Operation Ceasefire” in the mid-1990s, has found that violence in troubled neighborhoods is caused predominantly by a small number of people who are members of street gangs, drug crews and other identified groups.

These groups, whose members typically constitute less than 0.5% of a city’s population, often have little organization, hierarchy or common purpose, and commit violent acts primarily for personal reasons, not to achieve any economic gain or other advantage.

The Group Violence Reduction Strategy, which also has been deployed in areas of Chicago, Cincinnati, Providence, R.I., and elsewhere, has resulted in a 40 to 60% reduction in group-related homicides in certain neighborhoods.

“You can make a difference. You can make a change,” the Rev. Anthony Bennett told the group of young men Wednesday. “My hope and my prayer is I won’t have to preside over your funeral. We are here to say we will stand by you if you choose to make a change.”

A mother who lost her son to gun violence eight years ago spoke to the group. She is a leader of YANA (You Are Not Alone), a support group for people who lost children to violence. She implored the men to put down the guns.

“I don’t want your mothers to go through what I’ve gone through. I don’t want to go to your funeral,” she said. “I’m tired of going to funerals and seeing young men in caskets.”

During the last year, law enforcement and partners from academic institutions worked to create a comprehensive spreadsheet of the individuals who pose the greatest risk to themselves and others in the community and to identify the groups with which they were affiliated. At the same time, Finch said, Project Longevity workers conducted extensive outreach to create community support for this effort.

“I am confident that the energy and commitment of the Bridgeport community, service providers and law enforcement agencies will help to address the devastating consequences of gun violence in this city,” Acting U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly said.

She reaffirmed the commitment of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to Project Longevity and vowed to continue working closely with the community and its law enforcement partners in order to achieve the goals of the project.

After thanking John Jay College for introducing this initiative to Connecticut, Daly emphasized that “it is a direct result of Gov. Malloy’s significant support that we have been able to bring Project Longevity to our largest cities, Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford.”

Violent crime continues to decrease in Bridgeport. Homicides, compared to last year, have decreased by 55%. Non-fatal shootings have decreased by 15%.

“I want to thank the governor and the Department of Justice for their support in this effort,” Finch said. “The police department is doing an outstanding job in reducing violence. Statistics show that in urban centers, a few hundred people commit 90% of the violent crimes. Project Longevity focuses on those people.”

That small number of people who commit these crimes impacts entire communities, Gaudett said.

“Project Longevity is about choices. If you make good choices, we have resources to help you succeed,” he said. “But the first group — whether you call yourself a gang, poss, or crew — that drops a body will make the choice to face the undivided attention of law enforcement. Every member of that group. This is about self selection and group accountability.”

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