Assistant chiefs nominated

The New Haven Police Department took a major step Tuesday night toward securing its “fragile” position in the city.

In a Board of Police Commissioners meeting at police headquarters on Union Avenue, NHPD Chief Frank Limon nominated three internal candidates to fill the department’s vacant assistant chief positions. The commissioners voted unanimously in favor of all three candidates, but the move comes in the face of a Board of Aldermen request not to appoint the new chiefs until it had been consulted. The new chiefs are all NHPD veterans — a departure from recent appointments in which the majority of assistant chiefs have been brought in from other departments.

Lt. John Velleca will become the assistant chief in charge of investigations, Capt. Patrick Redding will head the department’s patrols, and Lt. Petisia Adger will take charge of professional standards. Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Limon will preside over a swearing-in ceremony at the NHPD headquarters 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Richard Epstein, the chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners, said the unanimous decision signified the board’s willingness to acquiesce to the chief’s vision at a pivotal moment for the department. In a preamble before the official assistant chief vote, however, Epstein warned that the new appointees bore an important responsibility to their community.

“A failure at this point — since the department is so fragile now — would be terrible for the NHPD and the city,” he said. “The burden [as an assistant chief] will be significant.”

A 2007 Police Executive Research Forum report on the NHPD suggested that the department should employ four assistant chiefs instead of two. But the positions have largely been in flux since they were created soon after.

The three empty positions were vacated in the past year by Assistant Chief Thomas Wheeler, Assistant Chief Ariel Melendez and Assistant Chief Stephanie Redding (the wife of now-Assistant Chief Patrick Redding). Both Melendez and Redding had been promoted from within the department, but Wheeler had come to the NHPD from Chicago with Limon.

After Wheeler announced his retirement March 8, the only assistant chief left in the department was Tobin Hensgen.

Epstein said that the city brought in Limon last April from Chicago to change the NHPD’s fortunes and “take it to the next level.” With this goal in mind, he added, the commissioners had faith in the chief’s choices.

The commissioners expressed so much faith in the chief, in fact, that the promotional process was not open to internal applications. Instead, Limon recommended all three candidates directly to the board based on his experiences working alongside them, the chief said. Limon added that he had always wanted to pick internal candidates from the onset of the process.

Despite the previous paucity of assistant chiefs, the 20 of the 30 Board of Aldermen members requested in Apr. 4 that the city not fill any of those positions. In a letter to Limon, the Board of Aldermen members said the lack of assistant chiefs offered “a unique opportunity to look at the department, its supervisory needs, and its organization structure.”

The chief responded to this by saying publicly that the promotion of internal candidates would actually save the department money. Ward 12 Alderman and Vice-Chair of the New Haven Public Safety Committee Gerald Antunes spoke at the Tuesday’s vote, and said he had been convinced by the chief that there should be at least three assistant chiefs.

Although he said he was in favor of new promotions, Antunes still criticized the commissioners for not allowing other officers to apply for the position.

“It would have been a great opportunity to promote morale for years to come,” he said of the missed opportunity.

The three assistant chief positions are currently funded by this year’s NHPD budget, but Antunes told the News he was worried about securing funding for the future.

The NHPD currently has a $2.8 million budget, according to Limon. The department, however, may run as high as $3 million over its allotted funding, Epstein projected during an earlier part of the commissioners’ meeting.

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