Building Police-Community Connections As Diversity Lags in Hartford

When Governing magazine examined the diversity within local police departments, compared with the communities they serve, Hartford was among the ten cities with the largest disparity.  But two recent programs that have also received national attention underscore the city’s efforts to strengthen relationships between police and the community. The data indicated that Hartford’s police department was 35.3 percent minority, in a city where the population is 84.1 percent minority.  That was the 7th largest gap in the nation, after Fontana, CA; Edison, NJ; Irving, TX; Grand Prairie TX; Daly City, CA; and Allentown, PA.  Using 2013 data, Governing reviewed 269 local police agencies across the country.

The article points out that “although no national standards regarding diversity levels exist, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies does require accredited agencies to adopt steps to ensure their workforce mirrors their communities.”  It also indicates that “law enforcement experts emphasize that mending fractured relationships with communities takes much more than merely a diverse force.”hartfordltc1

Two locally developed programs, one at the Hartford Public Library (HPL) and the other at the Charter Oak Cultural Center, are working at building police-community relationships.

HPL is one of 10 public libraries in the U.S. that have been participating in the American Library Association’s Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC) initiative since April 2014. The initiative, in collaboration with the nonprofit Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, is an 18-month community engagement training program where libraries learn how to address challenges facing their community.

Hartford’s work was recently featured on the national website of the American Library Association.Week-3-boy-teaching-HPD1-e1435857651518

Through eight community conversations in Hartford’s North End neighborhood, HPL found that residents’ main concerns were public safety, community violence, and their relationship with the police. In response, a three-session community dialogue on public safety with police and community members was held, led by HPL community engagement director Richard Frieder.  Participants ranged in age from 18 to 87.

During the three sessions, according to published reports, the groups got to know each other; talked about what makes a good neighborhood and what they liked about theirs, what they would like to change, how safe community members feel, and what they believed the residents’ and police officers’ roles were in making the community safe; and figured out how to take action and solve the problems.

Some of the ideas generated include having the police and the community members participate in more activities and learning experiences together, such as block parties and community theater, where they address these issues.  Even though the 18-month project officially ends this month, HPL’s staff hopes to sustain the values and goals they developed.

3958730264_662fc1b23f_zAt the same time, another initiative in the city was taking root – one which soon reached the pages of The New York Times and the attention of the White House.

The Charter Oak Cultural Center’s Good Vibrations program began with a conversation between Hartford’s police chief, James Rovella, and the Center’s director, Rabbi Donna Berman.  The innovative program, which began earlier this year, sought to pair middle school age students who were at a crossroads in their lives with Hartford police officers to inspire and inform the youths involved as well as helping to change the community's negative perception of police officers.  Nearly two dozen students – and police officers – collaborate on musical instruments, and in composing rap lyrics.  The relationships built, and music made, has been described as transformative. Good Vibrations includes two free courses; a Rap Poetry/CD production class, and a guitar class. All the materials are free, including the guitars, which students get to keep.

white hosueLast month, a Hartford police officer and a seventh-grader who participate in the program were honored at the White House as "Champions of Change" for their role in helping to build "bridges between youth and law enforcement, while improving public safety," according to the White House. "During the three-and-a-half month program, officers and youth helped to lift the negative stigma between police and youth through open discussions about racism, crime, government, and family."

One participating middle-schooler told the Times: “I thought police officers were just to catch bad guys and be in a bad tone. But these guys are awesome. They’re always in a good tone with us. They play with us. They tag along in our jokes. They do stuff with us. They help us. They give us advice and everything.”



CT Girlcott Set to Make History, Opens Make-Up Free Photo Exhibit

March is Women’s History Month, and a number of local organizations in Greater Hartford have come together looking to make some history of their own.   They’ve organized CT Girlcott, a movement of women willing to go makeup free for the month (or part thereof) and to donate the money usually spent on cosmetics to organizations that benefit women and girls in Connecticut and around the world.  The effort also aims to raise awareness around body image and the relationship between women and the makeup they wear. Among the organizers are Charter Oak Cultural Center, YWCA Hartford Region, Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, University of Hartford Women for Change, Women’s Education and Leadership Fund, CT Humanities, and the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women.  A website, has been launched highlighting the initiative.

The Charter Oak Cultural Center is hosting a photography exhibition as part of CT Girlcott which features the images of the women leaders who have “dared to bare it all for the camera.” Revealed: Images of Women Leaders Who Bared to Make ChangeGirlcottLogoFINAL opens with a reception on February 28, 6-8 PM, and runs through April 13.  Photographs of over thirty women leaders from the Greater Hartford community will be revealed without their make-up, including many familiar names (and faces).

Girlcott is "a movement of Connecticut women raising consciousness" on behalf of women around the world and the issues currently confronting women in 2013.  Girlcott asks women to “girlcott” (as opposed to boycott) make-up for the month of March and to donate the monies spent on cosmetics to organizations and programs that help and support women and girls in Hartford and internationally. Connecticut Humanities provided funding for the exhibition, which includes the work of photographers Nilofer Haider, Lena Stein, and Nicolette Theriault.

CT Girlcott hopes to encourage conversations among women about body image, definitions of beauty, and what cosmetics are really covering up, and support the flourishing of women and girls in Connecticut, as well as in developing and war-torn countries.  The initiative also seeks to raise awareness about the representation of women in the media, the pressures women live with to look a certain way, the objectification of women, and the impact all of this has on women’s lives and the life of the nation and world.



Charter Oak Cultural Center Sees Opportunity in Dollar-for-Dollar Match

For those familiar with the remarkable work of the Charter Oak Cultural Center, time is running out on a unique opportunity to support the dynamic organization’s exceptional community initiatives.  An anonymous donor has agreed to match contributions made to support the work of Charter Oak, dollar for dollar, up to $100,000 - through the end of this month. That means every contribution made by January 31 will be doubled.  For an organization that is brimming with distinctive and impactful programming ideas but often scrambling for sufficient resources, it is a chance to see more dreams become reality.

Charter Oak Cultural Center, a magnificent and historic landmark and vibrant arts center on Charter Oak Avenue just off Main Street in Hartford, contributes to the revitalization of the city by bringing the community together through open and equal COCCaccess to the arts, through a deep commitment to social justice. The three main goals that characterize the organization’s mission are:

  • To provide wide access to the arts for all who wish to engage in them, regardless of income
  • To do the work of social justice through the arts
  • To celebrate the heritage of our historic building and to preserve it in perpetuity.

To realize that mission, Charter Oak provides over 1,000 underserved Hartford children with free, sophisticated arts classes and regularly makes professional performances – dance, theatre, concerts – and film and visual arts exhibits accessible to all.  In addition, Charter Oak recently started Connecticut’s first “street paper,” a newspaper written by people who are or were homeless. They’ve also introduced other educational and employment opportunities for those without homes. Their Youth Art Institute has been selected as a finalist by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, distinguishing it as one of the top arts and humanities-based youth programs in the country.

Charter Oak is seeking public support to allow them to take full advantage of what they’ve described as an “incredible offer” and “huge opportunity.”  Interested individuals can make a secure gift online, or mail a check to Charter Oak Cultural Center, 21 Charter Oak Avenue, Hartford, CT 06106.

There is more information about Charter Oak’s programming, which falls into four main categories, on the organization’s website.  The programs areas include:

  • Youth Arts Institute:   Reaches nearly 1,000 of Hartford’s inner-city children, ages 6 through 18, with arts and literacy-based classes held after-school, during-school, and in the summer, as well as evening programs for families.  The classes, along with nutritious meals and snacks, are provided free of charge. The youth programming successfully integrates the arts with academic subjects and assessments show that on average, participating students show a 54% improvement over the course of the semester in their ability to meet the state’s Arts K-12 Goals and Standards.
  • Professional Programming: Charter Oak hosts cutting-edge, thought-provoking visual and performing arts exhibitions and performances. As a matter of policy, they offer as many performances and events as possible for free, keep prices low and never turn anyone away who cannot afford the price of a ticket.  In the course of a year, they present over 100 professional events that include every variety of performing art—dance, film, theatre, concerts and more.  In two on-site galleries, both emerging and established artists from various cultural backgrounds exhibit their work.
  • Social Justice Programming: Charter Oak offers a number of programs that focus on social justice and equality- raising awareness about important issues and/or serving individuals in need- all through the lens of the arts.  For example, Charter Oak Cultural Center developed and launched Connecticut’s first “street paper,” entitled Beat of the Street, designed and sold by individuals experiencing homelessness.
  • Historic Preservation: When it was built in 1876, the temple on Charter Oak Avenue became the first building in Connecticut’s history to be constructed specifically as a synagogue.  Today, as the home of the Charter Oak Cultural Center, it is a vibrant hub for the community that provides programming for thousands of Hartford and Greater Hartford students, families and individuals each year.  The historic landmark is maintained and preserved as a vibrant resource for the community.

Learn more at or 860.249.1207.