Landslide vote against NHPD Chief

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Photo by Christopher Peak.

The New Haven Police Department has no confidence in its leadership.

In a landslide 246 to 21 vote, officers of the local 530 police union voted Thursday in protest of NHPD Chief Frank Limon, Assistant Chief Tobin Hensgen and Assistant Chief Thomas Wheeler, all of whom arrived in New Haven from Chicago less than a year ago. In an all-day vote, rank-and-file members of the NHPD passed a referendum on low morale and disappointment with the department’s top officers. Although the vote has no legal or official implications, its purpose is to send a message to the city that something needs to change, Union President Sgt. Lou Cavaliere said.

“This overwhelming vote shows that the chief has a serious problem,” Cavaliere said.

Contrary to previous reports, he said, the union vote was not spurred by any specific complaints or incidents.

“It’s not about pensions, like Mr. Limon would like to imply. It’s not about health benefits, Mayor [John] DeStefano, and it’s certainly not about contracts,” Cavaliere said. “It’s about low morale, and the safety of our men and women in uniform.”

Limon said he was disappointed in the vote, but that it would not affect his overall mission.

“The people of New Haven have the right to expect their police department to improve public safety in their city and strengthen community trust while being a professional organization,” he said. “I have not lost confidence in my officers or in our ability to work together to achieve these goals. I will not be distracted from the job I was hired to do.”

In the weeks leading up to the vote, Limon declined to comment on many specific complaints, but he told the News on Wednesday that he plans to “push ahead with the goals of the department and with our strategy of reducing crime.” Limon added that he was confident that his command staff is affording the rank and file everything they need.

Cavaliere said that it is Limon who is keeping the officers from getting everything they need.

He also said the chief is endangering officers’ lives by denying them bulletproof vests and AR-15 rifles ordered under former chief James Lewis.

NO CONFIDENCE IN THE LEADERSHIP

Richard Gudis, an attorney for the police union, released a statement following the vote that delineated other criticisms of the police leadership.

The statement said that Limon and his assistant chiefs have not “demonstrated a command presence and [have] failed to build on strategic, operational and tactical strategies necessary to manage the NHPD.” It also charged that the administration manages by “fear, intimidation and retaliation.”

The union statement also said Limon has violated union law and a collective bargaining agreement by not allowing union representatives into some meetings. Cavaliere said that the first time he met Limon, the new chief told him that he did not always believe it was best to follow the specifics of a union contract.

Gudis added that, under Limon, “freedom of movement has been denied to both citizens and the police force.”

These grievances formed to create the lowest departmental morale in recent history, Cavaliere said. He added that officer morale had never been higher than when Lewis led the department, but Limon had diminished this since he and his assistant chiefs arrived from Chicago in April 2010.

While the union officers said the vote was only a referendum on low morale, Limon and others have hinted in the press that issues of contract negotiations and potential pension cuts factor directly into the timing of the vote. The union’s three-year contract will expire on June 30, and negotiations would normally begin in January or February, Cavaliere said.

Limon has some aldermanic support in these upcoming negotiation.

“The city is in trouble here in terms of finances, and we have to be in a situation where everybody works together and makes compromises,” Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark said. “This vote of no confidence is not quite fair.”

Cavaliere said the turnout of the vote was unexpectedly large, and that it proves the officers care strongly about the issue. He added that Limon and others had previously claimed that the union leadership called for the vote as a contract tactic.

In fact, Cavaliere said he was initially against holding a “no confidence” vote. In September, when the issue had first been raised by some officers, he said he talked them out of the idea because he wanted to give the new chief a chance to turn things around.

Now that the vote has past, all that remains for the city is to decide how to proceed. Cavaliere said that he expects the mayor to become involved.

“The mayor doesn’t want a hostile work environment,” he said. “We [the union executive board] have to sit down with the mayor and the chiefs.”

DeStefano could not immediately be reached for contact.

During the vote, Limon received some extra support from more than just the 21 officers who voted to support him. Some Elm City residents rallied to support his handling of the department on Monday outside police headquarters.

NO CONFIDENCE IN THE FORCE

Monday’s rally was not an isolated incident. While the union was demonstrating no confidence in its leadership, some Elm City residents also showed that they have no confidence in some police officers. Citizens seeking to benefit from the vote’s media attention protested police brutality and union leadership outside of police headquarters.

Almost 20 protesters from New Haven Against Police Brutality stood outside of the NHPD headquarters Thursday evening in what several group members said was an attempt to benefit from some of the media coverage of the “no confidence” vote.

“We are voting ‘no confidence’ in violent police and ‘no confidence’ in police carrying semi-automatic [AR-15] rifles,” the group’s press statement said.

The group, which was created after the Oct. 2 raid on the Morse-Stiles Screw at the Elevate night club, was represented by Yale students and local residents, and opinions varied on the importance of the vote. Cavaliere, the union leader heading the assault on Limon, took some flack of his own at the protest.

“We’re not out to attack the union, the union is a good institution,” NHAPB member Blest Peters said. “We’re against the leaders of this union.”

Megan Fountain, one of the lead organizers for the group said that the protesters oppose arming officers, and that they will have the same mission regardless of the vote’s outcome.

In response to the protesters and their criticisms of union leadership, Cavaliere said “they don’t work here.”

The no-confidence vote began at 6:30 a.m. and ended at 7 p.m.

Alon Harish contributed reporting.

Comments

  • bjfair

    I’m doing the math and it tells me that (1) there may be an overwhelming number of people who either are “lending” their support and willing to “wait and see” or (2) who placed no importance in the vote. (or both). Just as the 246 who voted against him have reasons there are also reasons why the vote wasn’t 530-0.

  • Fifster

    @bjfair

    Umm…The name of the union is “local 530.” As in, it is the 530th local police union. That’s how unions are named — it’s not the number of officers/voters in the union.

    I can’t tell you how many eligible voters there are–the article probably should have told us, to give us context–but it’s not 530.

  • SimpleSolutions

    “Out of a total union membership of 441 officers, 267 voted.”
    http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/cops_begin_weighing_in_on/

  • harbinger

    The protester’s oppose arming officers? Where do they think they live, the City of London with Constable Smith twirling his baton? Never mind the fact that less than twenty harpies on the steps of 1 Uninon doesn’t constitute entire city against the New Haven Police Department. Either the story is about the police union vote, or the shills parading back and forth on the steps. I doubt either group has much to say to the other or would even wish to be included in the same story.

  • tjhotdogs

    I lack confidence in Limon as well and think this is a good step toward his eventual ouster, but I also lack real confidence in the Local 530. That said, surely these protesters weren’t suggesting that our police shouldn’t be armed. That would be, in a word: asinine.

  • Peter

    The AR-15 is a civilian version of the M-16. It is a military weapon, suitable for war. The army does not emphasize marksmanship or fire discipline, but trains its soldiers to use this weapon to put a lot of lead down-range. The Marine Corps does emphasize marksmanship and fire discipline, and trains Marines to hit a point target (a single man) at 500 yards, its maximum range. For urban combat, the M-16 has been replaced by the M-4, which has a shorter barrel. While New Haven may not be London, is it the Fallujah of 2004?

  • harbinger

    Any firearm is suitable for war Peter. The Army does train it’s soldiers in marksmanship and fire discipline. The quicker you remove a threat with accurate fire the safer you will be is a lesson not lost on the Army. And while New Haven may not be Fallujah, the less gentle members of the community are carrying weapons that would make them feel at home there. It’s better for the local police to be ready to deal with any level of threat. We can’t wait for the Marines to come to the rescue.

  • JE14

    Harbringer what he meant is that these are assault weapons. Every firearm is not suitable for war, try going to war with a pistol you will probably survive as long as a 5 year old among a pack of lions.

    What’s next, the NHPD running around with grenade-launchers or tanks?