NHPD to announce new assistant chiefs

About 200 NHPD officers protested at City Hall last winter after 16 were laid off in a round of budget cuts. The department's leadership remains in flux as Chief Dean Esserman is in the process of filling assistant chief vacancies.
About 200 NHPD officers protested at City Hall last winter after 16 were laid off in a round of budget cuts. The department's leadership remains in flux as Chief Dean Esserman is in the process of filling assistant chief vacancies. Photo by Kamaria Greenfield.

New Haven Police Department Chief Dean Esserman is expected to finalize his new leadership team within the next two weeks.

Richard Epstein, the chairman of the city’s Board of Police Commissioners, said Tuesday he believes Esserman will nominate a new slate of assistant chiefs in the “next week or 10 days.” The new assistant chiefs will replace the three Esserman asked to step aside late last month so that he could pick his own leadership team. Epstein said he did not know, however, which officers were in the running for the positions, and Esserman has not indicated whether he will make internal or external appointments.

Because of the frequent turnover in the department’s second highest rank — the Elm City will have seen 11 assistant chiefs in just three years when the appointments are made — city and police officials said the NHPD may offer specific contractual accommodations to ease potential candidates’ job security and pension concerns. All officers must serve a minimum of 20 years to retire with a regular police pension, and assistant chiefs are not protected by the NHPD’s union contract against firings.

“I’m confident that no [job security] concerns will prevent the department from getting the most qualified people to fill the assistant chief vacancies,” said the city’s Chief Administrative Officer Robert Smuts ’01, whose office oversees the police department.

Epstein said he expects the chief to select “very high-quality” candidates for the post. Once Esserman nominates his team, the city will see if there are “reasonable accommodations” that can be made for candidates who might face “barriers” to selection, Smuts told the New Haven Register.

“I don’t think the [high turnover] detracts people from the post,” said Bishop Theodore Brooks, who served on the Board of Police Commissioners until earlier this month. “Once you get in upper management, if you’re good at your job, and you want to move up, then [the assistant chief position] is an excellent spot to work.”

When Esserman announced in January that he would be requesting the resignation of his current assistant chiefs, several community activists protested the move as detrimental to the department’s morale and community policing goals. But Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04, who serves on the Board of Aldermen’s public safety committee, said Esserman’s formation of a new leadership team upon taking the department’s helm “makes sense organizationally.” He added that he has been impressed by Esserman, who has “rolled his sleeves up and is getting his hands dirty” with a detailed and comprehensive community policing strategy.

The impact of the volatility in the department’s leadership remains to be seen, however, Hausladen said.

“I imagine [the turnover in assistant chiefs] would detract from the pool of candidates — if you are 17 years with the police department and you are asked to step into a role [in which] you could be fired immediately, then you have your retirement on the line,” he said.

In the past two years, two police chiefs have asked a total of five assistant chiefs to resign or retire.

While Esserman did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday, he announced in a January statement that he would not bring “anyone from New York or Providence” into the NHPD’s leadership. When the chief finalizes his choices for his leadership team, Smuts said, he will consult with Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and make a recommendation to the Board of Police Commissioners, who have the ultimate hiring authority.

Brooks said he hopes to see “some young energetic” assistant chiefs with whom Esserman can share his “wealth of policing knowledge.” The new assistant chiefs should be “reflective of community interests,” he added.

Last April, then-NHPD Chief Frank Limon appointed John Velleca, Patrick Redding and Petisia Adger as assistant chiefs. Along with the assistant chief positions, the department’s top spot has been in flux recently, with four chiefs in as many years: Limon resigned in October and Esserman was sworn in Nov. 18.

While Velleca announced his retirement in December, Esserman asked Redding and Adger to resign last month as part of his leadership restructuring.

“We’ve had a lot of volatility with the turnover in the chiefs,” Brooks said. “But now that we’ve got some stability with the chief, with a four-year contract, hopefully we’ll see some stability with the assistant chiefs.”

Esserman’s contract runs until Feb. 1, 2014.

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