In a 4-1 decision Wednesday, the New Haven Board of Police Commissioners approved a resolution of the Board of Aldermen recommending that the Yale-New Haven Hospital security force be stripped of its power to arrest.
Before deliberating on the resolution, the board held a third public hearing to allow more people to express their views on the issue. There was not enough time at Tuesday’s hearing to accomodate all those who had signed up to speak.
The aldermanic resolution, passed Nov. 18, was prompted by hospital security officers’ arrest of eight union members who were leafleting at the hospital. Charges against the union members were dropped Nov. 22.
Advocates of both sides filled the Aldermanic Chambers at City Hall, with such badges as “Support Hospital Police” and “Stop The Threats!” expressing their stances on the issue.
Supporters of the security force stressed the importance of maintaining the officers’ authority and suggested that the officers would not choose to remain at the hospital if their positions were changed into those of security guards.
“These individuals are needed in New Haven,” said Patricia DeWitt of the hospital’s department of community health.
Supporters of the resolution dismissed the hospital’s arguments that removing the officers’ arrest power will damage their ability to protect the people there, citing other hospitals where the guards are not given such authority. Furthermore, many said the hospital administration has abused its authority to make arrests.
“Our concern frankly is that the administration of the hospital … is forcing their officers to misuse their powers,” Local 34 President Laura Smith said during a short break between the speakers’ comments to the board and the commissioners’ deliberation. “The hospital has proved itself to be an unworthy steward of that power.”
The speakers took far more time discussing their opinions than the board did in its deliberation. Only commissioners Frederick Streets, who is also the University chaplain, and John Einhorn voiced publicly the reasons for their decision.
Streets said the most important issue for him was public safety, which is why he voted to retain the security officers’ arrest powers.
Einhorn thanked the supporters of both sides for their “extraordinary” input into the discussion of the security force’s constabulary power. He said constables were an “archaic” part of law, mentioning as one example that the floorwalkers at the old Macy’s department store in New Haven used to have the same powers. He joined the three other commissioners in voting in favor of the resolution.
Following the decision of the board, some security officers said they were unsure about the future.
“We’ll see what happens next,” said Rev. Joseph Stoudmire, a security officer at the hospital.
Supporters of the resolution were pleased with the results and pledged to stand by the security officers at the hospital to make sure they retain their jobs in a different capacity.
“I think that it’s a good opinion,” Ward 7 Alderwoman Dolores Colon said. “I say shame on the hospital administration … I give my full support to the security officers at the hospital.”
The resolution will now be given to New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. for final approval. DeStefano was unavailable for comment Wednesday night.