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.”



Hartford as Global City: Immigrant Civic Engagement Initiative Gains Recognition

Hartford is quite an international city, a melting pot of cultures and backgrounds that most assume is the exclusive province of major metropolitan areas such as New York and Boston.  But in language, nation of origin, and cultural traditions, virtually every corner of the globe is represented in Connecticut’s Capitol City, and its surrounding communities.

In fact, Hartford is a popular resettlement city, with about 25 percent of the city’s population recent immigrants.  To respond to the significant need among the various immigrant communities for assistance and guidance in navigating language barriers and cultural differences and more fully integrating into their new home community, a partneHartfordPublicLibraryPicturership of Hartford-based organizations stepped up in a way that has proven quite effective, and is gaining national recognition.

The Hartford Public Library received funding in 2010 for an Immigrant Civic Engagement Project through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), to develop a comprehensive program to promote immigrant civic engagement.  The initiative had two goals:globe

  • Facilitate the transition of newly arrived immigrants into the community and build trusting relationships of mutual understanding between new and longtime residents
  • Engage established immigrants in civic integration and facilitate their involvement in broader community building efforts

At the annual conference of the international Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA), hosted recently by Hartford and held at the Connecticut Convention Center, the leaders of the ground-breaking Hartford partnership were called upon to lead a session to outline their work for those who may seek to emulate it in other communities across the country.

Among the presenters was Richard Frieder, Director of Community Development & Civic Engagement within the Cultural Affairs & Public Programming Department and Center for Civic Engagement of the Hartford Public Library.  Frieder was joined by Homa Naficy, Chief Adult Learning Officer and Nancy Caddigan, Intercultural Liaison of the Hartford Public Library, and Kyle Barrette and Rebecca Thomas of the UConn School of Social Work.

Innovative Approaches, Impactful Outcomes

Their session, called “Innovative Approaches to Community Development in a Challenging Economy and Changing Society,” was well-received by conference participant from across the country.  They focused on “effectiveness, evaluation and programs,” outlining what was done and why – and how it all worked.

  • They described an effort that engages immigrants and “receiving” community members, social service providers and other immigrant advocates, highlighting the importance of building networks of trusting relationships.
  • The initiative provided an opportunity to address immigrant voices isolated from the mainstream, respond to language and economic barriers, and address the lack of engagement in community and civic associations.
  • The program featured “cultural navigators” – some of them bilingual - and community dialogues – held at the Library’s American Place - all aimed at improving the immigrant experience in Hartford.

Most of all, it created bonds between existing members of the community – many of them retired teachers and social workers who volunteered to be “cultural navigators” – and immigrants looking to adcivic engagementjust to their new land.

New connections were developed between city officials, organizations and service providers to the immigrant and refugee community, and both the immigrant community and receiving community became engaged in community building.  There was also outreach to churches, community centers and other neighborhood organizations.

Over three hundred people were involved across all activities of the three year project.

The outcomes were substantial, and included the development of strong relationships, an increased awareness of immigrant issues, integration of immigrant and refugee families within their local communities, and increased social capital for immigrant as well as receiving communities.  In addition, action teams focused on new community projects, municipal and organizational investment in immigrant and refugee issues was enhanced, and a City Commission on Immigrant Affairs was established.Hartford_CT

UConn School of Social Work students, as part of the grant-funded initiative, served as program evaluators, maintaining a rigorous evaluation of outcomes, and an audit trail of activities so that the entire project could be replicated.

At the end of the day, organizers hope that the program has effectively “changed the way that people think about immigrants – and the Capitol City.”  Hartford is a global community.  And it has produced a program that can help immigrants here and elsewhere to settle in and excel.

UConn Strengthens Focus on Asian Studies, Hartford Library Offers Seminar Series

With the addition of six new faculty, there is newfound scholarly expertise in the area  of Asian and Asian American Studies  at the University of Connecticut.  The growth of the academic program is transforming UConn into a distinctive center that focuses on Asian populations - not just in Asia, but across the world.  The greater emphasis provides an increasingly global perspective to studies of Asian peoples, going beyond language.

The new group of professors brings a greater emphasis to cultures formed from diasporas, or the scattering of people from their traditional homeland; and alternate histories, such asasian studies local or regional histories that haven’t traditionally been recorded.

Daniel Weiner, UConn’s vice provost for global affairs, told UConn Today, “It’s a very exciting time to invest in faculty with expertise pertaining to Asia. It’s also exciting that UConn has an opportunity to construct the study of Asia in a unique way through inclusion of transnational and diasporic studies.”

“This focus allowed us to hire people who significantly build upon the established field of Asian studies by engaging contemporary and modern questions,” says Cathy Schlund-Vials, associate professor of English and director of the Asian American Studies Institute.

While UConn is strengthening its study of Asian peoples, there are also efforts underway in Connecticut to provide support for the Asian population currently in the state, particularly immigrants and those with limited English skills, lack adequate access to culturally and linguistically competent legal services.

The second in a series of free community educational seminars will be held on Saturday, November 2, 2 – 4 PM at the Mark Twain Branch Library in Hartford.  The series is supported by the Connecticut Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission, the Connecticut Asian Pacific American Bar Associations.   Topics to be discussed include immigration, business licensing, discrimination, and voter registration.

New Partnership to Encourage Focus on Workforce Skills Gap

A new partnership has been formed to enhance communication between members of the public and community leaders on important issues in the Capitol region, and public events to facilitate the conversation are already on the calendar for this month.

Working in collaboration, CT News Project (parent of CT Mirror), WNPR, and the Hartford Public Library, with the support of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, have launched the Community Information Hub for the Capital Region to increase opportunities for people to have their voices heard on issues affecting them and their communities.

The Community Information Hub will offer web-based and community-based forums and dialogues where concerned citizens can report and discuss issues they care about and work together towards solutions. The online resource will provide residents with a broader platform to share their perspectives and ideas for community action.

The Community Hub also will present and connect to data and other information on issues and sponsor public events.  In its first public event, the Community Information Hub will host a forum on the workforce skills gap in Connecticut on Tuesday, May 7, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Hartford Public Library.

The Hub will also offer people the opportunity to participate in a community conversation on the workforce skills gap and training programs on Saturday, May 18, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Hartford Public Library.

The Community Information Hub builds on the ongoing partnership between The CT News Project’s online news site, CT Mirror, and WNPR to collaborate on web and radio stories, cross mConcept image of the six most common questions and answers on a signpost.arketing, and to share reporters and other resources. Both operations are located in the same facility at 1049 Asylum Avenue in Hartford.  The project also integrates and expands on the Hartford Public Library’s experience in providing facilitated community dialogues through its Hartford Listens series.

Offered in collaboration with East Hartford-based  Everyday Democracy, these events will inform residents of the issues, and the dialogues will help residents develop action agendas. Recent community dialogues focused on adult learning and the special needs of children of incarcerated parents.

The hub project is supported by two civic engagement staff:

  • Heather Brandon serves as the director of civic media at CT News Project and WNPR, a new position responsible for efforts to promote civic engagement throughout Connecticut. Brandon will lead the partnership’s efforts to create a new civic media website, and will also develop and coordinate public issues forums and events. Brandon is a former freelance producer for Morning Edition, Where We Live, and The Colin McEnroe Show at WNPR.
  • Tricia Barrett serves as the project’s community dialogue coordinator at Hartford Public Library and is responsible for the planning and implementation of all aspects of community conversations as well as related activities in the Community Information Hub project. Barrett is the former educational services manager at the Hartford Courant.

“The formation of the Community Information Hub in partnership with the Connecticut News Project, WNPR and Hartford Foundation for Public Giving leverages our assets in new ways and puts the library at the center of an important community movement. We are already at the heart of the community, and civic engagement is at the heart of where the public library is going in the 21s century.”said Matthew K. Poland, chief executive officer of Hartford Public Library.

The Community Information Hub is supported by a three- year, $374,362 grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.

 “The Hartford Foundation supports the Community Information Hub partners’ goal of broadly engaging the community, reaching residents and organizations from throughout the region, including local schools, faith-based organizations and diverse nonprofit and community leaders,” said Linda J. Kelly, president of the Hartford Foundation.

To register for the workforce skills gap forum log onto:

To register for the community dialogue on the workforce skill gap log onto