Hartford’s ongoing effort to end the chaotic, all-hours street parties that have upended the city’s South End is stretching the police department thin, prompting an emergency call last weekend for all available officers to report for duty.
“Anyone who is available to come in please come in. Regardless of rank and assignment. We will take anyone,” Capt. Gabriel Laureano wrote in an email to officers Sunday. “Call in to the watch commander for your marching orders. Your brothers need help.”
The day before, hundreds of cars and thousands of people had packed Wethersfield and Franklin avenues as they often do on spring and summer weekends. In recent weeks, Hartford police, working with other city and state agencies, have been working to prevent and disperse the gatherings by blocking off Wetherfield Avenue and side streets, banning street parking and funneling traffic onto I-91, where closed off-ramps prevent the caravans from circling back into Hartford.
But that response is a significant drain on the department’s resources each weekend, particularly when the city is also experiencing a surge in gun violence and homicides, Police Chief Jason Thody and Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin have said.
Lt. Aaron Boisvert could not say Friday how many officers responded to the call or how many in total were on duty, though the department is known to frequently order officers in to work extra shifts.
A March 1 memo by a supervising sergeant reported the patrol staff was suffering from low morale, and that numerous departures for other law enforcement agencies had forced the remaining patrol officers to work extra shifts “at an alarming rate never before seen.”
Thirteen officers had left the department in the first three months of the year, whereas 21 officers resigned in all of 2020, up from 16 in 2019 and 13 in 2018.
At a news conference Thursday to disucss recent homicides in the city, Chief Jason Thody acknowledged that officers were working many hours, but downplayed the issue of staffing. At just over 400 officers, the department has about as many personnel today as it has had in recent years, Thody said.
“We are in the middle of a difficult time right now and the officers are stepping up, as you see on Wethersfield Avenue, as you see during these (homicide) instances,” Thody said. “They answer the bell time and time and time again and there’s not enough we can do to thank them.”
At the news conference, Thody declined to share further details of the department’s plan to control the car issues on Wethersfield and Franklin avenues but said the city has “a pretty good plan in place to keep that going.”
He also responded to reporters’ questions about the hostility some officers have faced while patrolling those corridors, including a propane tank being thrown out of a residence at an officer and glass bottles being thrown at others.
Thody said it’s a police officer’s job to put themselves in harm’s way to maintain order, and that residents have been overwhelmingly grateful for the support in their neighborhoods.
“That’s one incident,” Thody said of the assault with the propane tank. “If you’re talking about the other 50 or 60 people that approach the officers and say ‘Thank you,’ it makes that one worth it.”
Rebecca Lurye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.