NHPD chief announces restructuring

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Photo by Jacob Geiger.

Two months after taking over as New Haven Police Department Chief, Dean Esserman announced Friday evening he would shake up the department’s leadership.

Esserman said he had informed the three current assistant chiefs — Petesia Adger, Tobin Hensgen and Patrick Redding — over the past few weeks that he planned to appoint four new assistant chiefs. Because the city budgets for four NHPD assistant chiefs, the implication was clear: Adger, Hensgen and Redding, who together have served over 46 years at the NHPD, will have to resign or retire, joining John Velleca, a former assistant chief who retired last month after serving 20 years with the department.

The latest restructuring echoes the NHPD leadership’s flux in recent years, and has brought to the surface internal frustrations against the chief, said former NHPD union president Louis Cavaliere.

Although Esserman did not set a timeline for when the new assistant chiefs will be named, the Elm City will have seen 11 assistant chiefs in just three years when the replacements are made. Adger, Redding and Velleca were appointed to assistant chief positions last April by then-NHPD Chief Frank Limon, and Esserman is the department’s fourth chief in four years.

“I am moving the Department in a new direction and have taken these past two months to assess the organization,” Esserman said in a Friday press release. “Over the last several weeks, I have met with the assistant chiefs to let them know that I’d like to put my own team together and that I will honor and respect their service to the City of New Haven in developing a time frame for the transition.”

Redding said Thursday he would retire, while Adger said Friday she has not yet submitted her retirement paperwork, the New Haven Register reported Friday. Hensgen could not be reached for comment over the weekend.

While Esserman previously served as chief of the Providence, R.I. police department, he said he would not bring “anyone from New York or Providence” into the NHPD’s leadership. Limon, who spent 30 years with the Chicago Police Department, brought two assistant chiefs with him from Illinois: Hengsen and Thomas Wheeler, who each served over 20 years in Chicago’s police department.

Still, Cavaliere said the NHPD union “isn’t happy” with Esserman’s personnel plans.

“[Esserman’s] making many false promises,” he said. “He said he would keep [the assistant chiefs] on staff when he came on, but now he’s going to appoint his own cronies.”

At his Nov. 18 swearing-in ceremony at City Hall, Esserman said he would “lean” on the assistant chiefs for help.

When asked whether he thought the union might consider calling a no-confidence vote against Esserman, Cavaliere said the move “would be considered by the membership.” Eventually, he said, rank-and-file officers would be “caught up by [Esserman’s] arrogance,” adding that “a lot of complaints” have been filed against the new chief.

NHPD union president Arpad Tolnay did not return requests for comment Sunday.

The NHPD union held a no-confidence vote against Limon Feb. 3, which resulted in a landslide 246–21 referendum against the former chief. Cavaliere said officers at the Providence Police Department told him that the complaints leveled against Esserman there were “part of the reason they got rid of him.”

The Providence police union passed a no-confidence vote against Esserman in 2009 and released a statement last February reaffirming the vote, adding that he had “lost his ability to lead this Police Department effectively.”

Esserman’s leadership style has also ruffled feathers in the NHPD’s upper leadership, according to a source with knowledge of the department’s internal operations.

According to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized by the NHPD to speak to the press, the assistant chiefs took several vacation days following Esserman’s assumption of his post. There are rumors in the department, the source said, that Velleca’s December retirement was requested by Esserman after Velleca sent an email to the department’s top leadership that the chief deemed insubordinate.

On Friday, NHPD spokesman David Hartman deferred comment on the leadership restructuring to the chief’s office. Esserman’s office did not return calls for comment made Friday. On Thursday, when asked about Esserman’s leadership, Hartman said the chief was “very clearly at the helm of the ship,” spearheading the department’s renewed efforts at community policing.

Esserman was sworn in as NHPD chief Nov. 18, and his contract runs until Feb. 1, 2014.

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