City’s corrupt cops may lose pensions

Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they wear uniforms, flash badges and work for the city?

In the last year, four city police officers have been implicated on corruption charges, from embezzlement to accepting bribes to forgery. So for months, city officials have worked to restore the image of the New Haven Police Department by cracking down on corruption in its ranks.

But two weeks ago, an arbitrator delivered a blow to these efforts when he ruled that the NHPD could not terminate two of the charged officers, Lt. William “Billy” White and Detective Clarence Willoughby, because they had already filed for retirement, which takes effect immediately. The decision means White and Willoughby are entitled to full pensions from the city, an outcome City Hall officials have said undermines its efforts to overhaul the department.

Following the ruling, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Board of Police Commissioners Chairman Richard Epstein have called for a “bad-boy clause” in the police union contract, the first of its kind in Connecticut, which would limit officers convicted of corruption having access to their pensions and retirement funds. While some aldermen have been pushing for a similar measure that would apply to all city employees since White’s arrest in March, and while Democrats in the Connecticut legislature have called for the revocation of corrupt state officials’ pensions, DeStefano has yet to disclose publicly the details of the contractual clause he wants police to adopt.

City administrators argue that corrupt officials should receive no benefits whatsoever because they committed their crimes while on the job. But some, including members of the NHPD and union affiliates, argue that revoking benefits would unfairly punish family members of officers convicted of corruption and deny officers the money they contributed to the city’s pension fund out of their paychecks. Members of the police union currently pay out 8.75 percent of their paychecks to the pension fund, which is then managed by a group of investors, Union President Sgt. Louis Cavaliere Sr. said.

City Chief Administrative Officer Robert Smuts ’01 dismissed claims that a bad-boy clause would harm officers’ families, arguing that, as soon as city employees commit to a contract that requires proper behavior, they effectively waive their right to pensions if they break the law in service of the city.

“It’s all determined by the agreements that we enter into with them,” he added. “My point of view is that we shouldn’t have to pay pension for someone who engages in egregious violations of the public trust.”

City Hall Spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said the mayor will wait until formal negotiations over the police union’s contract are underway before discussing the details of what he wants included in the bad boy clause.

Willoughby, who was charged with larceny and forgery last month, had his $58,541 in annual pension approved by the Police & Fireman’s Pension Board last week. White is currently receiving $91,000 annually and, now that his termination has been overturned, is eligible for roughly $5,000 more for the unused sick time he accumulated during his career, Mayorga previously told the News.

Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah, chairman of the Board of Aldermen’s Finance Committee, said because funding for police comes from taxpayers, salaries and pensions should be more stringently awarded.

“That’s money that homeowners paid for,” he said.

The Local 530 police union’s contract with the NHPD, which expires June 30, is already in the beginning stages of negotiation. Cavaliere said union representatives and city officials from the Labor Relations department have already met twice, but the two camps have not yet put forward specific proposals.

Epstein said he thinks union members, aware that the few officers who betray public trust and denigrate the work of the “highly honorable” do not deserve the same benefits as others, will understand the need for a bad-boy clause in the new contract.

But Cavaliere, though conceding a bad-boy clause of some sort will probably appear in the union’s contract, said he is surprised by how many union members are opposed to the inclusion of the clause.

“We have a job to uphold the law, and it just seems funny to me that we don’t want to give [the city] that clause,” he said. “If you look at the downside, people might be thinking, ‘I might get caught up in a crime someday and I just don’t want to lose my pension.’ ”

Cavaliere said he will not just “sit there and give up” and allow the city to impose harsh punitive measures on NHPD officers, but he said he will consider the city’s proposals with an open mind.

The details still have to be ironed out, Cavaliere said, and the two sides have to agree on questions such as what kind of on-duty or off-duty crimes would justify the city revoking an officer’s pension, and what percentage of his total pension the city can deny.

But both the city and the union said they think negotiations will produce an outcome acceptable to both sides.

“Everything comes with a price,” Cavaliere said. “It’s going to be a give and take process.”

While the city is unlikely to give the union “a candy shop” in return for a bad-boy clause, reasonable wage increases, more vacation time and lower medical premiums are among the union’s potential demands, Cavaliere said.

For the time being, the police union’s contract is the only union contract up for renegotiation, but Smuts said the city may pursue a bad-boy clause in its contracts with the fire department and municipal employees as well.

Like Local 530’s contract with the city, the fire union and the municipal employee union contracts expire every four years. Inserting a new clause into those contracts would require both sides to agree to open their respective contracts before they are due to be renegotiated.

Shah said the Board of Aldermen has investigated the plausibility of a bad-boy clause at a municipal level since March. In September, Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 offered the aldermen a template for drafting an ordinance that would revoke the pensions of corrupt city officials.

But to date, no aldermen have introduced a plan to implement a municipal bad-boy clause, according to Shah. Such an ordinance, he said, would likely provoke heated debate and would take months to implement.

Emmet Hibson Jr., director of labor relations for the city who negotiates union contracts, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Yale Police Department officers have a contract with their own private union, and it is unclear whether they too will pursue a bad-boy clause. Officer Carlos Perez, president of Yale Police Benevolent Association, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

On Monday, Democrats in the state legislature introduced a bill that would retroactively revoke the pensions of state officials convicted of corruption charges in the last 10 years. The legislation is a subsection of broader ethics-reform legislation Democrats have proposed.

Republican officials in the State House of Representatives also put forward an ethics-reform package that mirrors many of the initiatives the Democrats have proposed. Gov. M. Jodi Rell has said she will sign pension-revocation legislation if it lands on her desk.

Detective Justen Kasperzyk, who was also implicated in the March corruption probe, had $41,013 in annual disability pension approved in September. Detective Jose Silva, who was later arrested for his involvement with Kasperzyk, was denied his attempt to resign to avoid termination and was not eligible for retirement.

Comments

  • bad boys?

    lamest lede of the year.

  • Joseph h.

    Students, the Elderly ,watchya gohn do,watch goin do with the boys in blue.
    Sleepin the night away,lookin for overtime paay.Bad boys Bad Boys a wearin o da blue watch gonna do cause they on campus for YOU.

  • grd98

    Except Ortiz. Pension from New Haven and Yale too! Corruption does pay kids, as long as you're at the top!