Police mull COPS membership

Yale Police union members met Wednesday to consider joining a larger parent union, following concerns raised by officers regarding Police Chief James Perrotti’s leadership style and the perceived unresponsiveness of the department’s management.

Thirty of the 55 members of the union, the Yale Police Benevolent Association, attended a presentation by the Connecticut Organization for Public Safety Employees. COPS, which is a non-AFL-CIO union, was established by retired Connecticut police officers last year to give personal service, legal representation and training to members, executive director Ron Suraci said. Suraci and YPBA steward Chris Morganti said the proposal of joining COPS was very well received and that there were no dissenting voices.

“I thought it was very productive and went very well,” Suraci said. “I’m confident that they’ll be joining us.”

Morganti, a Yale Police Department officer, said that problems with YPD management came to a head over the department’s handling of a recent rape case. According to the YPBA, University police officers were not informed of violent threats made against them by East Windsor Police officer Rafael Crespo, later arrested for kidnapping and sexual assault.

“We think joining a larger union is more necessary now because of the type of activity happening in the department,” Morganti said. “It’s really been downhill — we haven’t had much luck dealing with this chief and his administration.”

University officials received a letter March 1 from YPBA members outlining their grievances following the Crespo arrest. University secretary Linda Lorimer said Yale is reviewing their complaints.

“A review is under way and … a number of individuals in the leadership of the police department have been interviewed as well as the two officers who wrote the letter to me,” she said. “I am hoping that the review will be finished up by next week, and I’ll be responding to the officers who submitted it.”

Morganti said problems in the department include unjustly harsh disciplinary actions and terminations by management, as well as a total lack of morale and confidence in management among officers.

YPD management and Yale labor relations officials have also responded to officers’ concerns, saying that they are receptive to union input and encourage communication. A source with Yale’s labor relations department said the current contract between YPD and the YPBA contradicts the union’s claim that management never seeks input. The agreement states, “Representatives of the Department and the Union … will meet quarterly … to share information, resolve problems and discuss matters of interest, including improving the Union/Management relationship.”

The official said Perrotti has held a standing invitation for the YPBA to meet with management and outline the agenda for such meetings since December 2004, but the YPBA has failed to respond.

“The real reason we haven’t done that is because there is no relationship to meet with [Perrotti],” Morganti said. “If there were a relationship, we’d be more than happy to go to those meetings.”

Perrotti declined to comment for this story.

University Police Lt. Harry DeBenedet, a part of the department’s management, said Perrotti respects the union.

“I believe the chief is a capable leader,” he said. “The chief is willing to talk to the union.”

DeBenedet, who is not a YPBA member but did serve as New Haven Police Union Local 530 vice president, said membership in COPS will have little effect on management-labor relations for the YPD.

The YPBA has tried to join a number of different larger unions in the past, Morganti said, but has been unable because the YPD is a private department of Yale University. Locals 34 and 35 are both AFL-CIO affiliated and the University’s security employees cannot be of the same parent union as the workers, Morganti said.

In the past, the police union’s attempt to join a larger union did not have any real incentive, Morganti said.

“It costs money to join a larger union, but there are things that are happening now that just aren’t right,” he said. “We didn’t have the resources to correct them, but now we should be able to challenge everything that we think is wrong.”

The American Medical Response in New Haven as well as the Darien and Old Saybrook police departments have already joined forces with COPS. Nineteen other petitions for membership are currently being processed.

YPBA members will vote on joining COPS next week.

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