Aldermen debate police layoffs

After a hotly contested debate, the Board of Aldermen formally decided not to request the rehiring of any members of the NHPD.
After a hotly contested debate, the Board of Aldermen formally decided not to request the rehiring of any members of the NHPD. Photo by Alon Harish.

Tensions flared Monday night as aldermen debated how to react to the city’s recent layoffs.

At a meeting of the full board, aldermen narrowly defeated a resolution that would have requested that Mayor John DeStefano Jr. rehire 16 police officers laid off Feb. 17 as a result of the budget cuts that triggered a police march on City Hall. The resolution created controversy between three camps of aldermen: those who said the police officers should be brought back as a first priority, those who said all 82 layoffs announced that day should be re-examined, and others who said the city should stick with its layoff decisions.

After an hour of intense debate, the third position prevailed, meaning the Board of Aldermen will not officially request the rehiring of any of those who lost their jobs.

But the police layoffs are especially untimely because warming weather will bring more violence to New Haven, said Ward 6 Alderwoman Dolores Colon, who supported the resolution.

“I’m sorry that librarians and crossing guards got laid off, but when the bullets start flying, they’re not going to be the ones running in the direction the bullets are coming from,” Colon said. “If there’s any way we can get those 16 cops back on our streets, back in patrol cars, we really need it.”

Ward 19 Alderwoman Alfreda Edwards said she does not feel safe in her own neighborhood, and this is not the time to lay off police officers.

Still, several aldermen criticized the resolution for prioritizing the return of police officers over the other 66 city employees who lost their job last month.

Ward 30 Alderman Darnell Goldson offered an amendment to the resolution that would have expanded it to call for all 82 layoffs to be reversed and for a public hearing to review how the city decided whom to lay off. The city’s priorities were misguided, Goldson said, and too many of the layoffs hit its lowest-paid employees.

“Are we going to keep the mouthpiece of the mayor instead of cops?” asked Goldson, referring to City Hall spokesman Adam Joseph. “Are we going to keep a public relations person for cops instead of librarians? Let’s start from the top and work our way down.”

But other aldermen, including Ward 29 Alderman Carl Goldfield and Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah, said the layoffs were unavoidable and should not be overturned.

The intensity of the debate peaked when Goldfield, who is President of the Board of Aldermen, nearly called Shah out of order for using personal language in his criticism of Ward 12 Alderman Gerald Antunes, one of the resolution’s main supporters.

Shah said Antunes, who is currently receiving a police pension from the city, was being hypocritical by pushing for the rehiring of the 16 officers while committing to no tax increases. Shah said the layoffs were necessary to avoid raising property taxes on New Haven residents, who pay the second highest rate in the state.

“I’ve got blood running down the pavement in my neighborhood — of course I don’t want to see cops go,” Shah said. “But when we make decisions we should stand by them.”

In a rare move, Goldfield stepped down from his position at the head of the aldermanic chamber to oppose the resolution from his seat in the back row. There is no magic number of officers for the police force, Goldfield said, and with increased efficiency in the police department the city can be just as safe without the 16 officers. Goldfield repeated his criticism of police union president Sgt. Louis Cavaliere’s statement last month that New Haven residents should arm themselves for protection given the reduced police force.

Most of the laid-off officers will have an easy time finding employment elsewhere, Goldfield added, a fact that Ward 17 Alderman Alphonse Paolillo quickly picked up on. The city, by training the 16 officers and then laying them off, is essentially investing in other towns’ public safety, Paolillo said.

“It’s a great example of regionalization,” Paolillo said sarcastically.

West Haven is already planning to hire six of the officers, the New Haven Independent reported March 10.

After the resolution failed, aldermen unanimously approved a different resolution that calls for a public hearing to review the public safety impact of the loss of the 16 officers.

Chief Administrative Officer Robert Smuts ’01 said the public hearing was an appropriate measure, but he called the request to rehire the officers an attempt to “duck out of making tough decisions.”

The layoffs brought the number of New Haven police officers down to 434 from 450.

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