New Haven police chief to announce retirement today



New Haven Police Chief Melvin H. Wearing said Wednesday that he will formally announce his retirement at a City Hall press conference this afternoon.

Wearing, who has served in the NHPD for 34 years and has been its chief for just over six years, is expected to retire later this month, officials at the NHPD said. After Wearing officially steps down, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. will form a search committee to find a replacement, sources said.

Wearing joined the NHPD in 1968. After spending his first five years as a patrol officer and moving up through the ranks, he became the first black chief of detectives in 1991 and the first black assistant chief in November 1993. Wearing assumed the role of chief after his predecessor, Nicholas Pastore, admitted that he fathered an illegitimate child with a convicted prostitute.

A replacement for Wearing has not yet been named. Such replacements are often drawn from within the department — such as by promoting the assistant chief — but the current assistant chief has been on the job for less than two months. This has led to speculation that the new chief will come from outside of New Haven.

“My thinking is that Assistant Chief [Francisco] Ortiz is very capable of being chief, but he needs a little more time,” said Robert S. Caplan, the chair of the Civilian Review Board — an oversight committee that handles complaints lodged against New Haven officers. “I assume the city is going to look outside the city.”

NHPD Sgt. Dennis Burgh said DeStefano will soon start the search for a new chief by putting out feelers in other cities. The mayor’s office declined to comment late yesterday afternoon.

Wearing’s tenure as chief was marked by a declining crime rate but also saw its share of scandal within the department.

“He did his job well,” Burgh said. “He’s done a lot with community policing and modernized the department with regards to computers. He got the old police academy back in top line.”

Under Wearing, the NHPD witnessed several highly publicized scandals relating to its investigations. In 1996, then-head of detectives Brian Sullivan allegedly concealed evidence in a murder investigation and is awaiting trial. In 2001, former Saybrook College Dean James Van de Velde ’82 — still the only named suspect in the murder of Suzanne Jovin ’99 — sued the NHPD, alleging the department violated his civil rights. And last April former officer John Goad was arrested on charges of drug possession, larceny and kidnapping.

Burgh, who found out about Wearing’s retirement late Wednesday afternoon, said it came as a surprise to many at the NHPD.

“Some guys are still finding out as they come into the office,” Burgh said.

The announcement of Wearing’s retirement comes on the heels of the resignation of two other high-ranking city officials. Both New Haven Fire Department Chief Dennis Daniels and Assistant Police Chief Douglas MacDonald vacated their posts within the past five months.

“I think the only coincidence [in the loss of these officials] is they are around the same time,” Caplan said.

MacDonald resigned shortly after he was not selected to become chief of the Providence, R.I., Police Department. Former NHPD assistant police chief Dean Esserman was appointed instead.

Caplan said Daniels’ resignation — though voluntary — was induced partly by severe budgetary problems faced by the fire department. But “Chief Wearing has been very successful in managing his budget,” Caplan said.

Ward 6 Alderwoman Hazelann D. Woodell said she believes Wearing’s retirement is not connected to any such budgetary situation within the NHPD and that he just wants to have more time to enjoy both his family and his life.

“He’s a smart man to retire now and enjoy his life,” Woodell said.

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