When New Haven Police Department Union President Sgt. Lou Cavaliere told members of the media Thursday that Elm City residents needed to arm themselves in the wake of police layoffs, he set off a political firestorm and may now receive departmental punishment.
The New Haven Board of Aldermen voted overwhelmingly Tuesday night in support of a resolution to request that the NHPD penalize Cavaliere for his comments. His call to arms for New Haven citizens took place during a police protest last Thursday against Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s decision to fire 16 officers to help close the city’s budget gap. Several aldermen, including Ward 4 Alderwoman Andrea Jackson-Brooks who introduced the measure, argued at the meeting that a police officer should not advocate the private ownership of weapons in a city that is struggling to combat violence.
“It was upsetting to have a police officer professing anarchy and to urge the populace to arm themselves,” Dolores Colón, Ward 6 alderwoman and member of the board’s Public Safety Committee, said. “The city as a whole has been trying to take guns off the street.”
Although the aldermanic motion is not binding and does not suggest a specific punishment for Cavaliere, Colón said she thinks that NHPD Chief Frank Limon will probably decide to suspend the union head for a few days. The punishment will likely not be as severe as a demotion, she added.
Colón told the News that she wants to see Cavaliere reprimanded, but added that she does not necessarily hope to see him fired.
The bill’s sponsor shared Colón’s wishes for a reprimand.
“To go as far as he did, to suggest people arm themselves, was entirely unnecessary for someone of his position,” Jackson-Brooks said. “I’d like to see him reprimanded, just like any of us would be if we did what he did.”
Neither NHPD spokesman Joseph Avery nor Limon could be reached for comment about the resolution on Tuesday or Wednesday.
While the vote to penalize Cavaliere passed, several aldermen told the News that they understood where his comments came from.
Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield acknowledged that while Cavaliere has the constitutional right to speak his mind, he ultimately voted to recommend discipline because the statement was “inappropriate and untrue.”
“Sure he has a First Amendment right, but even if you can say it, is it smart to say it?” he said to the News Wednesday.
Colón said that she understands some of his vitriol.
“I know the passion that [the police officers] have for the jobs and the betrayal they felt at being diminished by 16,” she said. “It’s a family for them.”
Some in the NHPD are protesting the layoffs in other ways. Seventeen police officers are currently under investigation for calling in sick the night after the layoffs were announced, Avery said.
After Cavaliere made his comments outside of City Hall last Thursday afternoon, DeStefano responded to the union’s claims that the city has become substantively more dangerous after the dismissal of the 16 patrol officers.
“Statements that citizens are unsafe and should arm themselves are inaccurate, irresponsible and aim to frighten and intimidate,” DeStefano said at the press conference.
Cavaliere told the News last Thursdaythat the city is becoming more dangerous than ever, and pointed to the mayor’s 2010 plan to increase the department’s ranks to 490 officers. He said this plan demonstrates that the mayor understands the safety problems for the public.
After the layoffs, the NHPD now has 434 officers. New Haven has seen four murders so far in 2011. There were 24 homicides in 2010.