NHPD reinstates SVU unit

In an ongoing effort to rebuild and strengthen the city’s police force, the New Haven Police Department has reinstated a unit dedicated to sexual and elderly assault.

As the newest addition to the city’s police department, the Special Victim’s Unit will operate as a section of the Investigative Services Division, which focuses on violent cases. SVU will be tasked with conducting investigations into sexual assaults, domestic violence cases and crimes committed against the elderly, as announced by NHPD Chief Dean Esserman during an April 5 press conference at the NHPD’s 1 Union Ave. headquarters.

“What I would say to the detectives who are here is that we need the best work you have, to bring justice to those who are offended,” Esserman said.

The department had a unit dedicated to special victims until a year ago, but the unit was disbanded due to staffing concerns. After a year without a formal SVU, it became clear that the department needed officers specially trained to handle cases of domestic violence and sexual assault, Esserman said.

The new unit currently employs one sergeant and three detectives, according to the unit’s commander Detective Sgt. Al Vazquez. He added that plans are underway to expand SVU in the future.

“A lot of people, especially children, are affected by cases of domestic violence and sexual assaults almost on a daily basis,” Vazquez said. “This problem deserves due attention.”

Esserman said the unit was reinstated under the aegis of Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and other agencies dedicated to preventing violence against women, children and the elderly, such as the Yale Child Study Center and the Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven.

Psychiatry professor Steven Marans, who serves as the director of the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence at the Yale Child Study Center, said he has been working with NHPD for over 20 years to meet the needs of children and families affected by violence.

“I’m delighted by the announcement [of the unit], and I can say with great pride that this department is the leading edge of policing in this country,” said Marans, who will now partner with the Special Victim’s Unit. “The department went a long way to extend the outstanding services that are already available.”

Barbara Bellucci, a family violence victim advocate with Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven, also applauded the return of a unit for domestic violence within the city’s police department.

“We’ve missed the presence of a Special Victim’s Unit in the department and we’re thrilled to have it back,” Bellucci said.

DeStefano said the addition of SVU is in keeping with many of the new NHPD initiatives since Esserman took the helm of the city’s police department in November 2011 — from putting police officers on walking patrols throughout the Elm City to strengthening New Haven’s 10 police districts.

“People pay a lot of tax dollars and they should get the services they deserve,” DeStefano said.

According to police records, the city has received six reports of felony sexual assaults so far this year, compared to eight at this time last year.

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