The New Haven Board of Aldermen narrowly passed a resolution Monday night recommending that the arrest-making powers of Yale-New Haven Hospital security officers be revoked.
The resolution was drafted in response to the September arrests of union supporters — six Yale employees and two graduate students — who were leafleting on the hospital’s grounds. Carried by a vote of 18-8, with a 16-person majority required, the resolution will be forwarded to Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and the Board of Police Commissioners, who have final say over the policy.
At last night’s meeting, many aldermen described the September arrests as an “abuse of power” that violated civil rights and posed potential liability issues for the city. Dismissing the notion that their concerns were union-prompted, they said their primary considerations were a possible infringement of first amendment rights and the alleged intimidation felt by hospital employees in the wake of the arrests.
“This is not a union issue for me; this is a people issue for me,” Ward 28 Alderman Brian Jenkins said. “What [the hospital] did was wrong — and we need to send a resounding message that that type of behavior will never be tolerated in the city of New Haven.”
Ward 7 Alderwoman Dolores Colon said she was concerned not just for those arrested, but for the security officers making the arrests, who she said were “being manipulated” by hospital administrators.
“They were forced to arrest people who have worked at the hospital for 30 years, people who know them, people who know their children’s names,” she said.
Other aldermen said they were troubled by the fact that although the city has no control over the actions of security guards, including arrests, it is still held legally responsible for everything they do.
Ward 10 Alderman Edward Mattison said giving private security forces the power to arrest is a “major legal risk taken unnecessarily by the city.”
“We are confronted with [a] situation in which there exists a group of people who have powers, and we have no opportunity to supervise what they do, but we are ultimately liable for them,” he said.
Those who opposed the resolution cited potentially harmful consequences of revoking the security officers’ arrest-making powers: an increased burden on an already understaffed New Haven police force, as well as a less secure hospital environment for patients and employees.
“A knee-jerk reaction to the labor situation does not justify taking away the security and safety that citizens deserve when they go to visit New Haven Hospital,” Ward 26 Alderwoman Lindy Gold said. “To in any way disenfranchise the Yale-New Haven Police Department would be a very serious mistake.”
After nearly an hour of debate, a majority of aldermen remained supportive of the resolution, and the board’s decision to pass it was met with applause by a large crowd in the aldermanic chamber.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04, who sponsored the resolution, said he was pleased by the board’s decision.
“I was impressed with the amount of the support the resolution had,” Healey said. “It was clear that [many] felt the hospital was out of line and that the city government needs to demonstrate that that sort of violation of civil and organizing rights is unacceptable.”
Healey added that the resolution, which also urges the hospital to drop all charges against those arrested, will most likely be discussed publicly at the next meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners.
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