Many thanks to both Ben Healey and Dan Kruger for providing us with a lively election, the first in many years, for the Ward 1 representative to the Board of Alderman. Both are clearly conscientious and intelligent men, and both have a strong commitment to public service. They also give us a clear choice. Healey, a liberal Democrat, has chosen to highlight his record, on his Web site, on the Yale-New Haven Hospital constable issue. I think his record on this matter is illustrative of a dimension of the choice before us, namely how his ideological commitments permeate his political actions at the expense of good government. I am the medical director of the Yale-New Haven Psychiatric Hospital, and I have a very specific and detailed view on the constable issue based on daily experience and it differs dramatically from that of Healey. For instance, Healey would like to make the constable issue seem to be one of free speech. It is far from a free speech issue. Rather the constable conflict has been a matter of union politics and how far politicians and union leaders are willing to go to further their goals, in this case to organize the hospital workers.
The episodes that prompted the hospital constable controversy occurred in September 2002, when eight people were arrested and charged with criminal trespassing for failing to stop leafleting on hospital property. In all instances those arrested were associated with Yale University; most were members of the executive board of Local 34 or GESO. None were hospital employees. The case took a two-track course, one political and one legal. On the legal track, the cases were referred to the state’s attorney for action. Politically, before the state’s attorney acted, Ben Healey introduced a bill to the Board of Aldermen recommending stripping Yale-New Haven security officers of their constabulary or special police powers. Eventually, his resolution passed. Legally, the state’s attorney “nolled” the trespassing charges against seven of the eight workers, indicating that the state would not proceed with the final prosecution of these cases at that time. The prosecutor stated that he believed that the arrests were legally justified. The issue wended its way through a political process that left Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. to decide the outcome. Talks between the mayor and hospital leaders were unsuccessful. The hospital leaders were willing to implement structural changes in the management of the constables that would address and resolve the issues of governance and control of the constables about which the politicians had expressed concern. They were also willing to maintain the level of professional readiness of the security force for hospital-related work. However, these proposals were not accepted by the mayor, who terminated hospital security’s use of police powers on July 3, 2003, after 35 years of complaint-free service to New Haven. There was never a serious assessment of the security needs of those affected.
I come into daily contact with the Yale-New Haven Hospital constables. Their professional background and scope of work is enormously assisted by having police powers, and their hospital-oriented specific training are all vital to a complex clinical program that inevitably deals with the behavior of patients and others that is, at times, dangerous. The constables participate in over 250 security events annually at the Psychiatric Hospital, and during my more than three years as medical director, there have been only three complaints from patients or families concerning their actions. All three were extensively reviewed and no fault was found with the behavior or judgment of the constables. This is an extraordinary record of restraint and expertise. Ben Healey would have you view them as “goon squads” (his comments can be found at http://www.labornotes.org/archives/2002/11/d.html). The truth lies elsewhere. Rather, these constables are professionals who are required to be graduates of the Police Academy. That they had arrest powers meant that they rarely had to use them, and that they had weapons meant that they rarely needed them. Their calm, restrained, professional use of these tools was the source of their effectiveness.
At many points along the way, Ben Healey had the opportunity to play the role of problem solver, which he never attempted to do. The issue was never free speech; rather, what was at play was the opportunity to embarrass the hospital. Healey’s actions reflected a strong bias towards meeting the goals of the union and indicate that his activity as an alderman is driven by an ideology that is so strongly pro-labor that it overwhelms matters such as the security of those he represents. This bias gets in the way of clear thinking and inhibits the political and administrative imagination required to work out creative solutions.
Dan Kruger, an independent, is a better choice. His temperament is even and steady. He works toward the resolution of conflict, not the promulgation of it. He wants to bring people together in effective coalitions. Dan Kruger has had experience in complex political arenas, such as during his tenure as one of two students on the Connecticut State Board of Education, and a rich political apprenticeship through working as a page for his state representative in the Connecticut General Assembly and as a Presidential Public Service Fellow in DeStefano’s office. He was a delegate to the Connecticut Democratic Party Convention to nominate Bill Curry in July 2002. While Dan Kruger’s style is to consult and seek consensus, he is also a man of passion, who stands steadfast for his beliefs. But his great attraction as an alderman is his vision of a collaborative political alignment of the board, mayor’s office and New Haven’s major institutions, such as the hospital.
So, what has been the outcome of the constables losing their arrest powers? There have been some dangerous, awkward episodes such as a New Haven police officer’s lack of knowledge of how to handle bleeding patients (issues of handling bodily fluids of people who may be infected with life-threatening illnesses), and slowed response times to emergencies. I have seen hospital patients taunt and attempt to provoke the constables by indicating that they know that they cannot be arrested by the constables, resulting in a security force that is somewhat hamstrung. These provocations have nothing to do with the union’s efforts to organize the hospital workers or free speech. Security is too important to allow it to be hijacked by issues related to whether or not politicians need to support the unionization of the hospital. Dan Kruger is the man for Ward 1. His independence will serve us well. He should be our next alderman.
William H. Sledge, MD, is the medical director at Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital. He is also the master of Calhoun College and a resident of Ward 1.