Among the changes coming to City Hall following Mayor Toni Harp’s inauguration will be increased security for the Elm City’s new leader.
Following the advice of New Haven Police Department Chief Dean Esserman, two police officers have been commissioned to work as Harp’s security detail. For now, their job entails basic protection and transportation between home and her office and to relevant appointments. Harp was the victim of two minor vandalism incidents while campaigning for office last fall, but according to NHPD spokesman David Hartman the increased security is unrelated to these incidents. It does, however, mark a shift from the previous administration: former Mayor John DeStefano Jr. did not have a day-to-day police detail.
“The mayor’s security detail is a direct result of the specific recommendation about it made by New Haven Police Chief Esserman,” City Hall spokesman Laurence Grotheer said. “The mayor deferred to his experience and expertise in this regard. This is not a new policy in New Haven — other mayors in past administrations have had NHPD security details assigned to them as well.”
Hartman said that the department simply complies with requests put in by the mayor’s office. For the sake of security, Hartman could not comment on the specific operations of Harp’s detail.“This is an issue of the mayor’s comfort and security,” Hartman said. “We’re told to provide a service, and we provide the service.”
Kevin Maloney, the public relations director for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, agreed that the issue of security is an issue of personal preference. Historically, mayors of other cities like Bridgeport and Waterbury have had similar programs in place, and given New Haven’s urban environment the additional security seems appropriate, he added.
Maloney said that typically mayors are not in danger of extreme violence; the security is a preventative measure.
“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” Maloney said. “Certainly in the urban centers, you’re dealing with a bigger, more robust array of city services. The opportunity for people to disagree in any inappropriate way is obviously there.”
DeStefano said that he generally operated without security, occasionally accepting a police driver transportation to New York City airports. When he did face some kind of safety threat, however, DeStefano said that he was sure to alert police immediately.
During his 20 years in office he only received such threats three or four times, he said. DeStefano said he avoided dangerous situations throughout his tenure as mayor.
“I would not get into an argument with a person who was emotionally upset. I would not walk into a place where I did not think I should be,” DeStefano said. “I think, for me, it was just prudent behavior on my part and awareness of where I was.”
The issue that raised the strongest backlash was the introduction of the Elm City Resident Card in 2007, DeStefano said. Though no physical violence transpired, DeStefano said that he faced verbal confrontations and menacing phone calls as a result, calls that subsequent investigations revealed to have been made from outside of New Haven. DeStefano did not comment on how Harp’s situation may differ from his and also said that public authority figures are not the only ones that need to be concerned about violence in urban environments.
“My sense of it is, as public officials, you do get threatened from time to time,” DeStefano said. “That said, like a lot of my residents, I’ve been out on when a shot has been fired, but that’s not unique to being mayor.”
DeStefano is currently teaching “New Haven & the American City,” a political science course for the spring 2014 term.