New Haven Police Department Chief Francisco Ortiz announced last week that he will retire from his post in January to become the head of security at Yale’s new West campus, leaving City Hall to conduct a nationwide search for his successor in the coming weeks.
The announcement last Monday came three days after the Police Executive Research Forum — a panel of outside experts hired by the city in March — released its final draft of a report suggesting steps the city can take to overhaul the department. Ortiz said he is leaving to spend more time with his family and to allow a new chief to oversee the department’s reforms.
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The department has come under close scrutiny within the past year because of revelations of corruption in the narcotics unit — to which Ortiz has never been linked — and calls from some community members for a renewed focus on community policing.
While the leader of the New Haven Police Union is urging promotion from within the department, the city official in charge of finding Ortiz’s replacement says choosing an outside candidate may be more feasible given the shortage of interested senior officers in the city.
Although the city is encouraging NHPD officers to apply for the post, top internal administrators have not yet shown interest, said city Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts ’01, who is supervising the search for the new chief.
Smuts said he is not sure whether the department’s two assistant chiefs, Herman Badger and Stephanie Redding, plan to apply. There is only one captain — the next-highest ranked position — in the NHPD.
“In terms of upper ranks within the department, we don’t have as robust a bench to draw from,” Smuts said.
The 127-page PERF report recommends that the NHPD promote officers to fill vacant administrative posts, which currently include six captain positions.
The PERF report also calls for the department to hire two new assistant chiefs of police — one to supervise the Investigative Services Division and another, preferably from outside the department, to oversee the proposed Professional Standards bureau, which would be responsible for maintaining the quality of police hires as the NHPD works to fill its ranks.
Smuts said he expects both of these positions to be filled by outside candidates.
But Sgt. Louis Cavaliere, the president of the New Haven Police Union, said candidates coming from outside the department would face more challenges adjusting to the position than would an insider.
“They might be setting [a chief from the outside] up to fail,” Cavaliere said. “It’s very difficult with everything going on in New Haven, and if the new chief comes in as an outsider, people are going to expect very high things of that person.”
A chief has to be familiar with New Haven neighborhoods and the attitudes of department members, which can be more easily fulfilled by someone who has been with the NHPD and is already established in the city, Cavaliere said.
Ward 13 Alderman Alex Rhodeen, the chair of the Board of Aldermen’s Public Safety Committee, said he does not think an outside candidate will difficulty adjusting to the chief’s position. While an external candidate may lack personal relationships with people in the department, someone from the outside will be free of “pre-formed opinions about the way the department should be run,” Rhodeen said.
But Cavaliere said he fears the opposite may be true. A candidate who has merely read about New Haven in the media or surveyed the recommendations of the PERF report might get the wrong idea of the city, Cavaliere said.
Such a chief may be inclined to take an overly hard-line approach to correct the city’s problems, and may upset the “rank-and-file” of the police department in doing so, he said.
Smuts said knowledge of the city is a concern, but a chief from outside would have plenty of resources to help ease the adjustment.
“It’s something that they’ll have to pay attention to — where we are, where we’ve been,” Smuts said. “That said, we have two excellent assistant chiefs who will still be there, as well as all the other men and women in the department.”
The city ordered the $130,000 PERF report after a Federal Bureau of Investigation sting operation in March resulted in the arrests of then-head of the NHPD narcotics unit Lt. William “Billy” White and narcotics detective Justen Kasperzyk.
White pleaded guilty late last month to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and theft of government property. Kasperzyk pleaded guilty to a civil-rights conspiracy felony and a theft of government property misdemeanor, and Detective Jose Silva pleaded guilty to a deprivation of an individual’s civil rights misdemeanor at an Oct. 7 hearing.
Although Ortiz served as Chief of Police during the federal investigation of the NHPD’s narcotics unit, he has never been tied to any of the illicit activities of the charged officers. Criticism directed toward Ortiz since the FBI arrests and the disbanding of the narcotics unit in March — including at public forums — has generally been focused on his management of the department.
City Hall Spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga lauded Ortiz for his five-year tenure as chief, which capped a 30-year career with the NHPD.
“He has done a terrific job protecting our city and leading the police force for the past five years,” Mayorga said. “We’re looking forward to his future and the future of the police department.”
Deputy University Secretary Martha Highsmith said the University looks forward to welcoming Ortiz as senior director of public security for the new Yale West campus — which the University acquired from Bayer HealthCare in September — and special assistant to Yale Police Department Chief James Perrotti.
Yale administrators have no qualms about hiring Ortiz, Highsmith said.
“We had many conversations, and Yale officials have worked with Chief Ortiz for many, many years and have the highest regard for him,” she said.
Ortiz’s retirement will take effect Jan. 18, and he will begin his job with the University on Jan. 20.