New Haven is losing a dishonest police chief. But don’t worry, he leaves behind dishonest city officials aplenty.
The story of the departure of the New Haven Police Department’s Chief, Frank Limon, is one of skullduggery. As the News reported, officers apparently spotted Limon on Friday in his third floor executive office, and he wasn’t exactly tending to business as usual. He was shredding documents and clearing out his office. He then loaded up his personal car and drove the 760 miles from New Haven to Chicago, the city where he had come from and where his family still lived.
Not only did Limon abandon his officers, but the city kept the public, and presumably those officers, completely in the dark about his departure. Spokesmen for City Hall and police claimed, due to a serious lack of either information or honesty, that he was only returning for family matters and to attend a policing conference. They looked rather silly after the press conference Monday where Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announced that, well, yes, Limon’s gone for good. Act accordingly. By the way, we’ve been planning this for two weeks.
It gets much worse. Because Limon was under a four year contract that the city cannot unilaterally amend, cash-strapped New Haven had to agree to pay Limon $90,000 for the next nine months. The ostensible reason was for his continued consulting on crime issues. The real reason was to shut him up and get him out the door. The chief took the money. And there we have our crime story. A fugitive (Limon) makes his escape, while his buddies (DeStefano & co.) cover for him and promise to mail him his share of the loot later. It’s frankly a new low for the city and department — and the victims, besides the public, are the officers of the NHPD, who are just trying to do their jobs amid this raging chaos that is hanging over their heads.
Unfortunately, this is not Limon’s first episode of being unscrupulous. Two years ago, I was covering a series of unsolved murders in the city and went to interview Limon and one of his assistant chiefs about it, in the same third floor office that the chief so ignobly cleared out on Friday. He and the other chief, a pal he had brought with him from the Chicago Police Department, spent much of the interview tossing out the usual statements, some valid, of how many murders are drug related and difficult to solve without help from the community. But as a parting comment, Limon added that he really shouldn’t be the one held responsible for the murder problem because it was the former chief, James Lewis, who did not get a handle on the situation as it had escalated.
I emailed Lewis, who was then serving as temporary head of the Yale Police Department, asking him to comment on this accusation. Lewis contacted Limon. That must have been a fun interaction. Limon probably panicked about what a breach between the chiefs of the two departments would entail and decided to take the low road and try to make the problem simply disappear. He called me, claimed I had made up the quotes and was trying to stir up trouble, and threatened to call President Levin to prevent the News from publishing them. (Thankfully, we’re an independent organization, and he was probably bluffing anyway.) We published the quotes in a Yale Daily News Magazine story — Limon didn’t complain.
I have been justifiably tough on Limon, but the man was not without merits. He knew and understood many of the problems that ailed the department: the lack of community trust, the lack of coordination between different divisions, the lack of continuity of leadership. And he made progress in fixing some of those problems. Thanks to increased cooperation within the department and with federal agencies, the NHPD under Limon has gotten vastly better at solving crimes. Limon also genuinely worked hard to engage with community leaders and was probably more popular with them than with his own officers.
Those are real, tangible gains, but the deceitful way in which Limon departed has done equally real damage to what the department needs most of all: strong, principled leadership to make changes stick for the long term. Limon’s departure typifies what has sadly become standard operating procedure for the NHPD and the city: a complete lack of accountability. No one makes mistakes; nobody learns anything; they just move on and are rewarded no matter what they have done. Ariel Melendez, the NHPD assistant chief deemed responsible for the Elevate raid fiasco, was shoved out the door with a pension of over $120,000 to keep him silent. Now his boss has gone the same route. DeStefano and Limon have together prevented a public debate about the NHPD and its direction — a tactic very good at not hurting people’s feelings, but not so good for leading a city.
Colin Ross is a senior in Berkeley College and a former managing editor of the News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.