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Stamford Congregation, Police Rally to 'Dream Big,' End Violence

At the Stamford First Congregational Church in Stamford Wednesday night, the community invited police and public safety administration to a brainstorming session hoping to end violence in the city.

There's been an outbreak of violence in Stamford recently. Residents have been talking about the spike for weeks. Several have to incidents involving gunfire, here and in . Police have stepped up patrols in the area, and several have been made. Police have been working overtime in the deaths of Darious Jones and Wyclif Bel Jean

On Wednesday night, members of the of Downtown Stamford came together with leaders from the community like NAACP Stamford Chapter President Jack Bryant and 5th District Representative Lyla Wallace and representatives from the to call for an end to the violence filling their streets, being perpetrated by young kids.

"We've been trying to work with the community and that's one of the important things—having those relationships with community leaders, attending community meetings, helping people feel comfortable talking to us," said Capt. William Mullin.

A theme of the evening was cooperation, always a tough barrier for police in situations where violence between geographical factions in economically disadvantaged areas of a city erupts. Cooperation between races, between families, between government and the public.

"You will have waves [of violence], but this certainly isn't the norm," Capt. Brian McElligott. "Building and maintaining those relationships with different facets of the community and groups throughout the city. We wanted to be involved and take part in bringing together people from different areas of Stamford this evening."

Cooperation to get parents to start showing up to these meetings was also a key point. With police gathering with members of the downtown church, the message was being spread amongst members who already knew the dire state of affairs. People like Wallace wanted to know what could be done to bring that message to the parents who aren't involved in their kids lives, parents whose kids are picking up guns.

"There's been a moral breakdown," said Wallace. "These kids just don't have respect for anything. And I don't see any of their parents here. I don't see any parents from Custer Street or Stillwater Avenue. We try to smooth things over and use euphemisms to describe a bad situation. This isn't a bad situation, it's a horrific situation."

Mostly police and safety administration agreed that much of the needed change must begin with getting parents more involved, especially an impassioned Stamford At-Risk Youth Detective Silas Redd. The detective said kids need to see leadership figures in their lives who have high expectations of themselves, so the child learns to have expectations as well. And he said removing the cap to expectation is integral. "Dream Big," he said.

"We want resolution not through police enforcement, but through police intervention," said the detective. "It comes down to parenting. We need more accountability at home. Home is where it starts, sports fans. No kid comes into this world a bad kid."

Silas works in Stamford Police Department Youth Bureau with Sgt. Joe Kennedy, who shared some facts. Since the July outbreak, nine weapons arrests have been made in the areas where violence has impacted the community most recently and that he's seeing arrests of male and female offenders in roughly equal percentages.

Members of the congregation were hoping they might be able to fund a gun buyback program, but weren't sure how much money they would need to raise. Kennedy said a program like that usually costs $100 per weapon retrieved, but they aren't always legit weapons.

"It doesn't often take a lot for them to get their hands on something and sometimes it's not even a real gun," Kennedy said. "They'll settle for a fake gun to commit their crime and they'll do it for $100, a drug transaction, a 'Hey, I'll owe you one.'"

Stamford Public Safety Director Ted Jankowski said he was working to see where the city might be able to acquire funds to keep recreation centers open past 5 p.m. to as late as 10 p.m. While not yet set in stone, Jankowski said it could go a long way to helping kids who are simply bored and have no other supervised place to go.

"That's a time when kids are getting into trouble," he said. "It's in that time where they're responding to bad influences."

Jankowski also said the progress he saw from members in the community Wednesday night was encouraging. It's a worse situation when no one cares enough to get together.

"I think the forum accomplished what we wanted it to, opening up communication between law enforcement and the community and that's the goal, stopping the violence," Jankowski added.

NAACP President Jack Bryant was hopeful for the progress as well. He shared what it is like to live in the areas affected by the violence and see the disadvantaged people facing difficult times every day, wandering aimlessly with nothing to do. Appropriate outlets, he said, would go so far in stifling outbreaks like July.

"Now we have to put all these suggestions into action," Bryant said. "That will be our agenda moving forward. You don't have to have 100 people in a room to get ideas, sometimes that can be a hindrance. The crowd that we had here may have not been made up with as many parents as we would have expected, but the ideas came from people really concerned about what's going on."

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