New NHPD leadership introduced

NHPD Chief Dean Esserman introduced four new assistant chiefs at a City Hall press conference Monday.
NHPD Chief Dean Esserman introduced four new assistant chiefs at a City Hall press conference Monday. Photo by James Lu.

With the appointment of four new assistant chiefs, New Haven Police Department Chief Dean Esserman attempted to restore stability to a department that has seen high leadership turnover in recent years.

Flanked by Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Board of Police Commissioners Chairman Richard Epstein, Esserman nominated four candidates to fill the department’s assistant chief slots, which have been vacant for almost two months. Lt. Thaddeus Reddish, Capt. Denise Blanchard, Lt. Luiz Casanova and state’s attorney’s office inspector Achilles “Archie” Generoso will become assistant chiefs in charge of professional standards, administration, patrol and investigative services, respectively. Esserman said he will rely on his new leadership team as he seeks to implement a series of changes intended to revive a community policing strategy that city and police officials hope will better address the city’s crime problems.

“From this day forward, the team that has been assembled will commit itself to community policing and the protection of the city,” Esserman — who formerly served as an assistant chief in New Haven before ultimately heading the Providence, R.I. police — said. “My great pride is that all four come from New Haven, are part of New Haven and know this great city.”

Monday’s announcement ended several weeks of speculation about Esserman’s picks. He had not indicated in advance whether he would pick internal or external candidates, but promised not to bring “anyone from New York or Providence” into the NHPD leadership.

Esserman delivered on his promise by promoting three officers from within the department — Blanchard runs the police training academy, Casanova heads the patrol division and Reddish is district manager in the Newhallville neighborhood — and Generoso, who headed the NHPD’s narcotics unit and served as district manager in the Dwight neighborhood in the early 1990s.

“Twenty years ago when I was hired, it was then Assistant Chief Esserman, under Chief [Nicholas] Pastore, and I basically grew up in this department under community-based policing,” Blanchard said. “It is a part of me, it is very natural, and just as I grew up with it, many of the other officers did, and it never went away.”

The four appointees must now be confirmed by the Board of Police Commissioners, which will next meet Wednesday evening at the NHPD’s Union Avenue headquarters. Epstein said at the press conference that he and his four colleagues on the board were very supportive of the “outstanding team” Esserman has assembled, and were excited to work with the new leadership.

DeStefano said he likewise supported the new management team, adding that when he recruited Esserman to be chief, he promised to give him full control over the police leadership.

“I have a straightforward mission to try and find strong leadership for the department and then let the leadership of the department run the department,” he said.

Esserman said the new assistant chiefs will provide the leadership to restructure and strengthen the department, in line with the strategic vision he presented for the first time to the department last week.

He announced a two-phase strategic plan last Tuesday that will see the department swell to 467 officers over the next year, and ultimately expand to 497 officers within three years.

This growth will allow the movement of more personnel to patrol capacities, which will allow the department to better execute its community policing initiatives, NHPD spokesman David Hartman said.

By putting more officers out in the neighborhoods — the NHPD will field 40 walking beats and a full complement of car beats under the new plan — Esserman hopes to strengthen community engagement and move the department from enforcement to proactive policing, Hartman said.

“The city is looking for leadership that is in alignment with their expectations of officers,” Casanova said. “Collectively, we can accomplish much and improve our credibility through listening, effective communication and trust.”

Along with the new appointments, City Hall is also working on measures that intended to address job security concerns for assistant chiefs who have not served 20 years with the department — the minimum required to receive a pension — such as Casanova, who has worked at the NHPD for 16 years.

One proposal, which the city will submit to the Board of Aldermen, would allow assistant police or fire chiefs to trade 30 days of sick time in exchange for an extra year of service toward a pension, said Rob Smuts ’01, who oversees the NHPD as the city’s chief administrative officer.

City Hall spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton ’04 said the changes to pension provisions were “procedural hurdles,” and that Monday’s announcement set a “longer, larger vision for where we want the police department to be.”

In the past several years, the department has adopted a number of different public policing initiatives. Ward 17 Alderman Alphonse Paolillo Jr. attributed this to a “carousel” of leadership at the NHPD.

When the Board of Police Commissioners approves the new slate of assistant chiefs, the Elm City will have seen 11 assistant chiefs in just three years. The high turnover in assistant chiefs has been caused, in part, by the regular change at the top: the department has had four chiefs since 2008.

Less than a year ago, the NHPD staged a similar announcement to Monday’s when then-Chief Frank Limon appointed three new assistant chiefs: John Velleca, Patrick Redding and Petisia Adger. When the trio was nominated Apr. 12, Epstein said the appointments would help secure the NHPD’s “fragile” position in the city — Limon abruptly announced his resignation Oct. 17 and was replaced by Esserman, who was sworn in Nov. 18. Velleca announced his retirement a month after Esserman’s arrival, and shortly afterward, Esserman asked Adger, Redding and Tobin Hengsen — who Limon brought with him from the Chicago Police Department — to step aside in January so that he could form his own management team and move the department in a “new direction.”

With the new slate of assistant chiefs officially established on Monday, city and police officials expressed hope for increased stability in the NHPD’s leadership.

“Having all four grow up in New Haven, build their careers in New Haven, represents a signal that the NHPD wants to build its bench and wants to build its next generation of leadership from within,” Benton said.

Paolillo, who is vice-chair of the Board’s public safety committee, said while he didn’t have a “crystal ball,” he thought the Board of Aldermen will likely have a fruitful working relationship with the department’s new leadership team.

Esserman’s current contract runs through Feb. 1, 2014.

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