At a quarter to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, City Hall Spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga sent an e-mail. A 24-year veteran of the New Haven Police Department, she told reporters, will be summoned before the Board of Commissioners next week to face possible “termination.” According to the city, Clarence Willoughby misappropriated confidential informant funds and forged official documents. Now, he faces charges of larceny, forgery and making false statements.
What was particularly ironic — and unfortunate, for the Department — was that the announcement of the internal charges against the fourth NHPD officer to be arrested on corruption charges since last March came just days after 20 officers were promoted to the rank of detective in City Hall’s aldermanic chambers.
Those hires continued a trend of promotions that marks the Department’s effort of late to fill its administrative ranks and boost morale. But the Department, as has been the case for weeks, just cannot seem to distance itself from the ghosts of its narcotics enforcement unit scandal of last March that resulted in the first high-profiles arrests of NHPD officers.
For a $130,000 price tag, City Hall commissioned a team of experts with the Police Executive Research Forum last April to draft suggestions for the department’s overhaul in the wake of the March arrests. Last November, the PERF consultants filed their final report of recommendations for the embattled police department along with a timeline for implementation.
The final report is now three months old.
Since then, it’s been one jump forward — and then a small step backwards.
While progress has been made, Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts ’01 said, NHPD Chief Francisco Ortiz’s retirement announcement in December threw a significant, unexpected, wrench into the rebuilding plans. The department is waiting for a new chief to take the reins before acting on several of PERF’s recommendations, such as hiring new assistant chiefs, Smuts said. In light of the shuffled priorities, those interviewed who are close to the PERF process said they wish the NHPD’s progress since the report was issued were made more public.
In a city press release in late October, Smuts had said that two of the department’s top priorities were to create the two new assistant chief positions and the redesigned anti-drug unit suggested by PERF.
But that was October.
This is February. And now, with Ortiz’s impending retirement and Assistant Chief Herman Badger’s retirement in January, Smuts said the city wants to give a new chief the chance to shape the direction of the NHPD.
“On PERF’s recommendation, we determined that we should hire a new chief before we hire the assistant chiefs,” Smuts explained. “A new chief will come in and lay out his or her vision for things like a new city-wide crime strategy and the anti-drug unit — some of those things that PERF expected within three months were impacted a lot by the Chief’s announcement.”
The department has held back on naming a new head of the anti-drug unit — which was dissolved after the head of the unit Lt. William “Billy” White and Det. Justen Kasperzyk were arrested and is yet to be reestablished — until the new chief appoints a new assistant chief, who will in turn select a new head of the division.
Smuts said he expects the appointment process to move quickly once the new chief is hired.
For the time being, the department has already followed through on several recommendations, though not necessarily in order, Smuts said.
One of the most visible accomplishments has been the multitude of promotions.
At the time of the final PERF report’s release, there had been no promotions to the rank of captain in nearly ten years, and there are still several openings in the other ranks within the department. In addition, specialty positions — such as detectives — were often filled by individuals directly recommended by the chief.
Now, the process is more open, Smuts said, because it is important for officers to understand why promotion decisions are made. For example, candidates who applied for promotion to the rank of lieutenant and captain for promotion in January had to interview with the two assistant chiefs of the department.
Chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners Richard Epstein said the promotions have had an “enormous effect on the way things are done on the street,” and have had a marked effect on the morale of the rank-and-file.
Smuts said the NHPD has also made great strides in improving crime data quality — a recommendation under the “within 6 months” category of the PERF report. Since the report was issued, the department has hired roughly 20 civilians to improve data entry.
In addition, the department has also overhauled its procedure for recording internal and citizen complaints, Smuts said. He credited Captain Joann Peterson, who was promoted from the rank of sergeant in January, for reformatting the complaint system and improving the way in which complaints are tracked after they are filed.
Peterson could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Jeffrey Meyer ’85 LAW ’89 served as co-chair of the Independent Accountability Panel, a group appointed by Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and composed of various New Haven residents representing the city’s different communities. Throughout the PERF review process, the IAP acted as a third-party check on the suggestions PERF made to the city. The IAP held public forums and made suggestions to PERF on the first draft of the report issued in August.
The IAP’s most prominent recommendation to both PERF and New Haven was to pursue a specific implementation plan that would hold the NHPD accountable to fulfilling the report’s suggestions. Although a rough timeline currently exists, a step-by-step checklist does not, Meyer said.
Meyer said he hopes the city will hold public hearings through the Board of Aldermen to update residents on the NHPD’s progress. Meyer conceded that he understands that the police department and the Board of Aldermen are also busy with other obligations and may not be able to monitor minute details of the NHPD’s progress.
“There has to be flexibility,” Meyer said. “But there has to be appropriate pressure.”
Smuts agreed, adding that he is currently working toward creating a revised list of what the NHPD has accomplished and what the department is working on.
The Board of Aldermen currently has an ordinance to create two new assistant chief positions, Smuts said. When the aldermen open the topic for discussion, Smuts said he will likely give them an update on the NHPD’s progress.
While the recommendations are for the most part manageable, some things the PERF report suggests just cannot be implemented, Smuts said. The PERF report calls for year-round recruitment, a system identical to that of the Yale Police Department and other departments around the country, but the NHPD’s charter does not allow for perpetual, open recruiting.
Instead, the NHPD can only recruit when three-quarters of the potential recruits that have applied have either been sent to the academy or been rejected. Smuts expects the early process of the next recruitment drive to begin in the late summer of 2008.
Epstein said he is not worried about whether or not the department is capable of implementing all of the PERF recommendations. The only obstacle, he added, is the prioritization of goals in light of Ortiz’s departure.
Craig Fraser, the director of management services for PERF, did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.
Smuts said PERF is currently running the city’s search for a new chief of police. The finalists for the position will be announced in March, and Ortiz’s replacement will be chosen soon afterwards.