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Norwalk Politicians Challenge Crime Stats

NORWALK, Conn. – With violent crime down a reported 12.2 percent, Democratic mayoral candidate Andy Garfunkel has a question: "Are we also tracking the shots fired?"

The Norwalk Department of Police Service reported Friday that violent crimes in the city were 12.2 percent lower in the first six months of 2011 than in the same six-month period in 2010.

"This is a reflection of the work that the chief and his department have put in with extra patrols and outreach to the community for cooperation," Mayor Richard Moccia said by email. "It is important to point out that we must continue the efforts to keep our city as safe as possible. I am also very grateful to the men and women of our department for their dedication and hard work."

But Garfunkel called for more. "I'm glad to hear that statistics show that there's crime reduced in Norwalk," he said. "I believe that as mayor I still can reduce these numbers even more so. I don't believe that this really takes into account the involvement of guns" in the decrease of aggravated assaults.

He wondered whether police were keeping track of the number of times gunshots were reported in neighborhoods. "The operative word is gun-related crime, or gun-related incidents, both of which I am sure are up," Garfunkel said.

Crime was also a topic at the Common Council at-large candidates' debate Thursday at City Hall. "Let's do a reality check," said Republican incumbent Doug Hempstead. "Crime in the city of Norwalk overall is down. It doesn't make the headlines. What makes the headlines is when somebody gets murdered or there's a drug bust.

"We're not immune. This is a miniature version of New York City. What I mean by that is has all the problems. We're not a Darien; we're not a Wilton."

Another candidate challenged the scenario. "As someone once said, 'There are lies, damned lies and statistics,'" said Democrat Kate Tepper. "The statistics do show that crime is down, however, crimes of rape and murder have increased so it isn't all a rosy picture."

Tepper was referring to FBI statistics released recently . But the figures announced Friday by the Norwalk Police Department show the same thing. A total of 99 aggravated assaults were reported in the first half of 2010 and 100 in 2011. Nine forcible rapes were reported in the first six months of 2010, and 11 during the same period in 2011.

The Norwalk Police Department's statistics have anomaly, though, reporting two murders in the first six months of 2011. Chief Harry Rilling confirmed by email that only two homicides have occurred in Norwalk this year, the Avenue B killings in August.

Rilling said it might be a mix-up. Lt. Paul Resnick said at 6 p.m. he thought the figures in the release referred to other incidents and he would track it down. At 9 p.m., Resnick said he was still researching.

Hempstead said he used Wilton and Darien as examples because crime is up there. He added more robberies and burglaries are occurring in Westport. "Our police department has done pretty good," he said. "Can it be better? I don't know one that can't be better."

Democrat Warren Pena had a different story. "I feel there's more crime going on in South Norwalk today than when I grew up there in the '80s," he said. "The majority of my family lives down there so I hear what's going on." He wondered what the point is of attracting people to "such a beautiful place on the water" if they have the impression it is a crime-ridden area. "I think we need to put more feet on the street," he said.

Increased bike and foot patrols are part of Garfunkel's campaign platform. "Having the neighborhood cop out there would decrease these numbers even more," he said.

Norwalk police attribute many reports of shots fired to fireworks . Officers said after the homicides that people were scared and called in every little noise.

Garfunkel said he has first-hand knowledge of the mood. "There are families that are in jeopardy out there, and as I have been going door-to-door, I'm hearing this from people," he said. "They are afraid. The average citizen doesn't know the difference between fireworks and gunfire. We need to deploy our police department out there to be more present so that people feel they are more secure."

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