City police union members authorized a vote of no confidence against New Haven Police Chief Francisco Ortiz Wednesday, in part as a result of his handling of recent police shootings, New Haven police union president Louis Cavalier said.
Union members will bring the issue to the general membership for a vote next Thursday, Cavalier said. He said dissatisfaction with Ortiz has been accumulating for a time, though the most recent complaints have come as a reaction to his treatment of police officers involved in the series of police shootings in past months.
“To start suspending people for doing their job is not the way you send a message,” Cavalier said.
Cavalier said union members have been most recently displeased by the suspension of a police officer last week for discharging his weapon in a situation Ortiz deemed inappropriate.
The New Haven police department has been under heavy public criticism in the wake of multiple fatal police shootings at the end of 2004. On Nov. 8, an unarmed police officer shot and killed Mack Lucky in a New Haven apartment building after an argument, and on Dec. 16, officers shot Hiram Marrero, a patient at a city mental hospital, after he wounded a caregiver. The Board of Aldermen recently created a task force to investigate the use of “excessive force” by police.
The police union has approximately 435 members eligible to vote by secret ballot on Thursday. If a vote of no confidence is passed, police union members will meet with Ortiz and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. to discuss the next course of action, Cavalier said.
DeStefano said the police union’s call for a vote of no confidence reflects a larger problem of troubled relations between members of the community and the city.
“This is a reflection of a tension that exists in the city right now between elements of the community, and how they believe the police should act with them, and how some of the police want to be treated by the chief,” DeStefano said. “The goal here is to remove any space that exists between the community and the police; and frankly, I think that’s an issue that’s bigger than the chief.”
Cavalier said that in his 36 years as the police union’s president, union members have only twice before demanded a vote of no confidence against New Haven police chiefs — Edward Morrone, who served until 1981, and Nicholas Pastore, who served until 1997.
Cavalier said his general impression is that Ortiz will lose the vote next Thursday.
“I personally feel he may get 10 to 15 percent of the votes,” Cavalier said. “The members have been complaining about Chief Ortiz all along that he caters to people that blame the police.”
New Haven Police spokesperson Bonnie Winchester said yesterday she could not comment on the police union’s authorization of the vote of confidence.