In NHPD, fears of attrition without contract

After a summer of upheaval, the New Haven Police Department’s union has yet to negotiate a new contract with the city, leaving some officers worried for their jobs.

Newly appointed union president Louis Cavaliere Jr. and two other NHPD union members said the union’s inability to settle on a contract with the city may cause officers to leave the force. Cavaliere came to power after former union president Arpad Tolnay was ousted from his post in July following unease in the rank and file at his interaction with NHPD leadership and allegations that he had used a union credit card for personal expenses. The appointment put Cavaliere in a position occupied by his father for three decades until Tolnay took up the position last year.

“We need to replenish the troops and retain officers,” said one NHPD officer stationed downtown near Yale’s campus who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his job. “We’re shorthanded and being shorthanded and without a contract affects morale … A lot of good people that shouldn’t leave are, and these are people you don’t want to lose.”

The most recent contract expired on June 30, 2011, but negotiations toward a new contract have stalled as the city pushes for what NHPD officers called major pension and medical benefits concessions.

Cavaliere said the city’s current proposal is unfair and that if the dispute reaches state arbitrators, “people may bail.”

Under Tolnay’s leadership, the union sent NHPD Chief Dean Esserman a letter in June that criticized his leadership and claimed that he was the reason several officers retired.

“I think that the letter woke him up a bit,” Cavaliere said. “He’s been open-minded; [Esserman] seems more approachable … He doesn’t want to lose veterans with experience. If anything, Esserman is trying to help us.”

Concerns about the contract loomed in the backdrop of this summer’s changeover at the union’s helm. Tolnay announced in late June that he would step down amid rank-and-file anger at what some viewed as his subdued approach in dealing with NHPD leadership and allegations that he used a union credit card for between $2,000 and $5,000 of personal expenses.

Following Tolnay’s announcement, the union’s executive board unanimously picked Cavaliere to take the helm of the union. Tasked with leading the union’s contract negotiations with the city, Cavaliere is no stranger to the job — he has served almost a decade on the union’s executive board and his father, Louis Cavaliere Sr., now a consultant for the union, led the union through several confrontations with City Hall.

After Cavaliere Jr. handed Tolnay a letter of suspension on July 6, Tolnay told the New Haven Register on July 9 the move was “unnecessary and ridiculous” and vowed to fight his removal as union president, so far unsuccessfully. Tolnay could not be reached for comment for this story.

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