Following the recent arrests of union pamphleteers at Yale-New Haven Hospital, several members of the city’s Board of Aldermen are backing a move to strip the hospital’s security guards of their power of arrest.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 introduced a resolution at last night’s board meeting that recommends the revocation of the private security agents’ ability to detain trespassers using the same power as New Haven police officers.
Union leaders and other critics have contended that the four Yale workers were arrested for their union campaign efforts, and not for tresspassing on the hospital grounds.
“When the body that the city empowers breaks the law, it requires some sort of response,” Healey said. “There’s no reason why the hospital should be able to arrest. It seems a gross miscarriage of justice.”
Called “an anachronism” in the resolution, the hospital security unit is one of the last such police surrogates in the city. The resolution also points out that members of the hospital security force do not attend the New Haven police academy or train under the direction of the New Haven Police Chief Melvin H. Wearing.
Ward 7 Alderwoman Dolores Colon said she agreed with Healey, citing free speech as a fundamental American privilege.
“[The hospital police] need to be stripped of that power if they’re going to abuse it,” Colon said. “[The series of arrests] was definitely unlawful, under federal law, under the Constitution. We’re looking at some of the most basic rights of America.”
Colon added that she thinks the Board of Aldermen will “show some good judgment and approve it.”
Ward 27 Alderman Philip Voigt, chairman of the Finance Committee, said he believes the September arrests were a breach of contract.
“I just feel they have stepped outside the bounds of why they were given the rights in the first place,” Voigt said. “This act is being taken because we don’t think they are using the power granted to them. Hopefully, it will serve as a wake-up call.”
Ward 25 Alderwoman Nancy Ahern — one of the Board’s two Republicans — said the “isolated” actions by the hospital police force did not warrant a suspension of the authority to enforce the law. Ahern said there was a difference between the security force’s long-standing right and recent union strife.
“[The constabulary arrangement] has worked well in the past,” Ahern said. “The problem now is about union organizing, not arrest powers.”
The proposed resolution now moves to either the Board of Aldermen’s Legislation or Public Safety committees. If approved, the legislation would return to the full board for a vote, with a 16-person majority necessary for passage.
However, the Board of Aldermen does not have the authority to implement such a change. Their decision on the bill would only stand as a recommendation to the executive authority of Mayor John DeStefano and Police Commissioner John Einhorn.
Ahern said this inability to execute what the board decides lessens the importance of the proceedings.
“I don’t think it’s best to spend our time on issues on which we have no authority,” she said.
A specific timeline for consideration of the bill has not been announced.