By Nancy Guenther Chapman
NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s “worst of the worst” are going on a list, targeted for proactive police and prosecutorial enforcement, a federal official with the U.S. District Attorney’s Office said Wednesday.
In an effort to combat gun violence, Norwalk is stepping up the level of formal structure with the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut and the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) that has been established for years in Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport, David Vatti said in a press conference at Norwalk Police headquarters. The partnership between the feds and the Norwalk Police Department uses the model developed through the Project Safe Neighborhoods program, which, officials say, has been successful in prosecuting serious and persistant criminal offenders, as well as persuading others to adopt a more productive lifestyle.
Vatti, deputy chief of the District of Connecticut Violent Crimes and Narcotics Unit and the Project Safe Neighborhoods coordinator, said the spate of gun violence over the summer is part of the reason for the step up. “We felt that we always had an informal relationship with Norwalk, where from time to time cases would be referred to our office for federal adoption, but in light of this recent violence we thought it might be best to take that relationship to the next level and institute a more formalized structure that we have in some of our cities,” he said.
This began about two months ago when Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik and Deputy Chief David Wrinn met with representatives of his Vatti’s office, Kulhawik said.
“We were able to get this thing put together with just a few minor changes in the way we do business,” he said. “I’m hoping we will see a big impact as time goes on.”
There are three prongs to the approach, Vatti said.
- The first is reactive. Norwalk Det. Bruce Lavallo has been assigned to meet with the state Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office monthly to review cases that involve possession of a firearm to see if any merit state or federal prosecution – and the stiffer penalties that come with that level. That may involve ATF.
- The second is proactive. “We are going to be developing what’s called ‘a worst of the worst list,’” Vatti said. “It’s for proactive enforcement purposes. The idea is target whom the police department, ATF and the state’s attorney’s office in conjunction with our office view as the most significant violent offenders in the city of Norwalk.”
- The third is preventative. “Our office meets members of the department of adult probation and offenders who are currently on probation for a deterrent effect in which the penalties of federal court are explained,” Vatti said. “The efforts of our program are explained. We also offer opportunities for those individuals who choose to take it, with service providers, who can help with employment, drug treatment and other counseling efforts that will gear them toward rehabilitation.”
Kulhawik acknowledged that the city has had a prior relationship with the FBI, DEA and the U.S. Marshals for years. “We keep enhancing that, expanding it, and this is just another step to keep providing excellent service to the community,” he said.
None of this will cost the city any money, Mayor Richard Moccia said. “We know just about every city in the state is in difficult financial situations when it comes to extra funds for different programs, so this has the dual benefit of helping us take criminals off the street whole also making it safer while not impacting the local budget,” he said. “Taxpayers are getting a lot benefit.”
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