NHPD leadership shuffle protested

Two community activists held a press conference Monday at noon outside the New Haven Police Department’s Union Avenue headquarters, asking Chief Dean Esserman to reconsider his request that Assistant Chief Petesia Adger step down to make way for a new leadership team.

In front of half a dozen people, former mayoral candidate Clifton Graves and community leader Barbara Fair said they wanted Esserman to keep Adger, who has served the NHPD for 20 years, on his new leadership team. Although Graves and Fair acknowledged the new chief’s right to choose his own four assistant chiefs, they stressed that Adger’s connection to the community would help bolster the department’s new community policing strategies.

“[Adger] was born and raised in New Haven, has served for 20 years and has strong community ties,” Graves told the News Monday. “It seemed to us if Chief Esserman is serious about community policing, then there should be a place for Adger on his management team to help implement this policing policy.”

Esserman announced Friday that he had informed the three current assistant chiefs — Adger, Patrick Redding and Tobin Hengsen — that he would be appointing four new assistant chiefs. Because the city’s budget allots funding for four NHPD assistant chief positions, the move would require Adger, Redding and Hengsen to retire or resign, joining John Velleca, a former assistant chief who resigned last month after serving 20 years with the force.

Given Adger’s desire to continue serving the NHPD, Graves said he and Fair were asking Esserman to reconsider his decision.

Graves and Fair held Monday’s press conference independently from Adger, who did not ask for the event to take place. Adger, who was not present at the press conference, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Graves and Fair have managed to obtain an in-person meeting with Esserman “in the next day or so” along with other community leaders, Graves said.

“Adger has long been a strong voice in the New Haven community for women, minorities and victim services,” Fair said in a Sunday evening email advertising Monday’s event. “Her record of service to New Haven citizens seeking justice and fairness from NHPD has earned her the full trust and support of all city residents.”

Graves said several officers came out of NHPD headquarters during the press conference to express their support for Adger.

Sgt. Rich Miller, vice president of the NHPD’s union, told the New Haven Independent that the union wants Adger to stay. Adger is “one of the most quality people” in the department, Miller told the Independent, adding that it will be “unfair” and a “disservice to the city” if Esserman replaces her.

Despite the support of some rank-and-file officers, NHPD spokesman David Hartman said the press conference did not cause any disturbance to the department.

“We were not invited to the event, we weren’t told about it, it was a non-event for us,” he said.

When reached Monday, Richard Epstein, the chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners, said his board would support Esserman’s personnel decisions. In order for Esserman to “do the job he was brought in to do” the chief “needs to have his own team,” said Epstein, adding that Adger has been a “valiant police officer for a long time” and he wished her the best in whatever she does.

Esserman has not announced the date on which he will name the new assistant chiefs. New Haven will have seen 11 assistant chiefs in just three years when the replacements are made.

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