Responding to a surge in gun-related violence in New Britain, State’s Attorney Brian Preleski has assigned a prosecutor to focus on gun-related cases full time. Meanwhile, a Superior Court judge has been assigned to a special gun docket.
The gun case prosecutor is Assistant State’s Attorney Chris Watson, a University of Connecticut School of Law graduate and New Britain native who interned for the State’s Attorneys Office in his hometown before earning his stripes as a prosecutor in the Bronx and then New Haven. Watson will handle the cases in front of the presiding criminal judge, Judge Hillary B. Strackbein. The state also has a handful of other specialty dockets, most notably those that handle domestic violence cases.
Watson will prosecute cases that carry charges ranging from carrying a handgun without a permit all the way up to assault with a firearm. “For anything involving a gun, we have one set of eyes that handle those,” Preleski said. A smaller group of gun cases, including armed robberies involving firearms, will continue to be handled by the judicial district’s five other prosecutors.
“By having one person handling the gun cases, you make sure those types of cases get handled consistently and that their given the attention they deserve,” said Preleski. “Having one person handling them, he has the ability to see trends and make connections between those cases that maybe, if you had four different people handing them, might not get picked up.”
Watson’s new assignment was the latest response to a sharp rise in gun violence in Central Connecticut.
Reports of shootings and gun violence have spiked so far this year, with 146 reports of shots fired being made from January through September in New Britain alone. Five people have been killed, and others have been injured. Preleski said some of the shootings have been gang-related and retaliatory.
Chief State’s Attorney Kevin T. Kane said his office, represented by Preleski, has also joined the Greater New Britain Shooting Task Force. The group is made up of police officials from New Britain, Berlin, Bristol. Plainville, Newington and Southington, along with probation officers and state police investigators.
In addition to making arrests in gun cases and looking for links and trends tying crimes involving guns together, Kane said the task force will investigate “cold case” homicides. The New Britain area task force follows the example of a similar effort in New Haven and Hartford. Last year, the creation of the Hartford Shooting Task Force was credited with a reduction in gun-related shootings and homicides.
“This is an extension of the successful shooting task forces established in New Haven and Hartford in response to heightened incidence of firearms-related violence,” Preleski said.