New police chief to take aim at guns

Frank Limon, pictured at Tuesday's announcement at City Hall, comes to New Haven from River Forest, Ill., a town of 12,000.
Frank Limon, pictured at Tuesday's announcement at City Hall, comes to New Haven from River Forest, Ill., a town of 12,000. Photo by Daniel Carvalho.

Frank Limon, who will become the new chief of the New Haven Police Department next month, will target gun violence in the city, which has reached a level that Mayor John DeStefano Jr. called “unacceptable” in announcing Limon’s appointment March 9.

Limon, a veteran of the Chicago Police Department and the current police chief of River Forest, Ill., takes over a department in transition, having recently lost four of its top five officials. While the city marked its safest year on record in 2009 (with a 10 percent drop in crime from the year before), it also faces a recent spate of high-profile murders, rising gang violence and an increasingly rowdy club scene.

There were 50 applicants for the position and three finalists, Chief Administrative Officer Robert Smuts ’01 said, but he and DeStefano both declined to name them. DeStefano said “all three could have been good chiefs,” but Limon was the “best fit.”

“I was particularly attracted to his record of success in Chicago and his firm belief in the importance of partnering with the community to reduce crime and make our neighborhoods safer,” DeStefano said.

Limon said at the March 9 press conference that he would collaborate with NHPD officers, neighborhood leaders and Yale police to reduce the gun violence, which DeStefano said is linked to drugs. The mayor said Limon worked to eliminate narcotics during his time as head of a 600-member unit in the Chicago Police Department.

Limon said he will also aim to increase the strength of the Investigative Services Division, a team of detectives who lead felony investigations in the city, and is looking at assistant chief candidates who could help.

Four assistant chiefs served under Limon’s predecessor, James Lewis, but DeStefano said Friday that the number of assistant chiefs has not been determined yet. He estimated there would be four, some of whom he hopes will be internal candidates.

Lewis said in a recent interview that his successor should continue his aggressive community policing strategies, which seek to eliminate sources of major crime in high-risk neighborhoods. Some community leaders criticized Lewis for straying too far from their view of community policing, in which police patrol the streets and build cordial relationships with the community.

As police chief of River Forest, a village of 11,500 near Chicago, Limon managed to reduce crime and costs at the same time.

When Limon came to River Forest, the department was in “crisis,” said Stephen Hoke, a River Forest trustee and the chairman of the River Forest police committee. But Limon turned it around, in part by demoting his two deputy chiefs and cutting one of the deputy chief positions.

John Rigas, River Forest’s village president, said Limon likes to solve and prevent crimes using technology and data, such as an “Internet-based wireless camera system” Limon recommended for River Forest’s business district.

DeStefano said Limon’s ability to speak Spanish was not a “determining factor” in his selection. But Sandra Trevino, the executive director of Junta for Progressive Action, a Latino community organization, said knowing the language is helpful.

“I think it’s great to have somebody in his position to be bilingual,” she said. “Especially because we have a huge Spanish speaking neighborhood.”

Ward 13 Alderman Alex Rhodeen, chair of the public safety committee, said Limon came with strong recommendations from the Police Executive Research Forum, a national organization that seeks to improve policing.

Limon will be sworn in April 5, and his term will run through Feb. 1, 2014.

Correction: March 23, 2010

The audio portion of this article misattributes the statement that New Haven is a smaller version of Chicago to Mayor John DeStefano Jr. In fact, soon-to-be New Haven Police Department Chief Frank Limon expressed that idea.

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