Speaking Monday night to a diverse group of about 20 Yale students and New Haven residents at Yale’s Afro-American Cultural Center, former New Haven police Chief Nick Pastore led a discussion entitled, “Community-Police Relations and Policing after 9/11.” Throughout his talk, Pastore was both angry and ironic in his tone as he criticized what he sees as a decline in the quality and fairness in policing.
Though most of Pastore’s talk focused on the importance of community policing, a widely successful policy implemented in New Haven in the early 1990’s for which Pastore gained national recognition, he began by discussing the impact the recent terror attacks have had on municipal law enforcement.
“The war [in Afghanistan] is successful and it seems that [U.S. Attorney General John] Ashcroft can do whatever he wants,” Pastore said. “And the media is being penetrated by that power. Everyone is falling into line. They say [that the casualties] are collateral damage, but we are the collateral damage.”
Pastore said that as a result of the increased concern with fighting terrorism, municipal police officers and police management have abandoned community policing tactics that had been successful. He described what he sees as a new, increasingly unfriendly police force that is more concerned with “who is stationed at the Federal Building,” than it is with maintaining relationships with people and neighborhoods.
Pastore instituted community policing in New Haven after becoming chief in 1990. This policy, which was eventually imitated by several other cities, gave officers regular walking beats so they could form relationships with residents. Pastore, who resigned from his position in 1997 after admitting to having had an illegitimate child with a convicted prostitute, said the policy afforded residents, especially poor ones, with a measure of dignity that he said no longer exists.
He continually reiterated his belief that fighting terrorism should not be the job of local authorities and warned that if this trend continues, the civil liberties of citizens will suffer.
“The sad part is that local police have been federalizing,” Pastore said.
He added that this federalization takes away from local concerns such as domestic violence and drug addiction.
But the hour-and-a-half long discussion diverged from terrorism into broader issues involving the criminal justice system, which Pastore and those in attendance criticized heavily. Pastore repeatedly quoted a prominent defense attorney as saying, “No one gets a fair shake in the justice system.”
“The attitude is, who cares about the violence on the streets because the right people are dying,” he said with ironic overtones. “If [an accused person] didn’t do this crime, he did another.”
Though most of the participants seemed to be in agreement with Pastore, William Dorris, a New Haven antique dealer who lives in the Hill neighborhood, said he believes the justice system was unfair before Sept. 11.
“In some neighborhoods, just because you live there, [police] treat you like a criminal,” Dorris said.
Pastore said he believed community policing had improved New Haven, though he admitted more had to be done and warned that a backslide seemed to be occurring.
“We’ve made some inroads — but it’s still the war of haves and have-nots,” he said. “For a police chief to refer to an addict in a humanitarian way, that is a no no.”