One year after the Police Executive Research Forum issued a report recommending sweeping changes for the New Haven Police Department — which created three new assistant chief positions and a revitalized Vice/Narcotics unit — PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler lauded the changes in a news conference last week.

“It is a new day in New Haven,” he said.

Last Tuesday, Wexler and NHPD Police Chief James Lewis presented news reporters, city aldermen and Independent Accountability Panel co-chair Shirley Wayne-Washington a status report on the 57 recommendations put forth by the PERF report. Although the NHPD has made marked progress in some areas, the economic downturn and recruitment issues have created added obstacles.

Following a corruption scandal in the NHPD’s narcotics enforcement unit in March 2007, the city hired PERF consultants to investigate the department’s standards and procedures.

City officials received the PERF report in November 2007 and, at the time, said they would implement many of the forum’s proposals. The report recommended, among other things, recreating the narcotics unit.

Lewis said more than half of the PERF proposals are in place and most of the rest are in progress. Although community members said they applaud the work the police department has done over the year, they added that many New Haven residents are still uncomfortable working with the department on investigations.

Lewis said at the Tuesday meeting that he is tweaking policies under the PERF guidelines in order to “change the culture” of the police department, which, over the past months, community members have said needs to regain the trust of the people. He and Wexler highlighted the newly named Vice/Narcotics division as working toward this goal.

Wexler said the division has 16 detectives and sergeants who have been carefully screened by the Federal Bureau of Investigations and Drug Enforcement Administration. Twelve of these select 16 are being trained by the DEA to work on drug investigations.

“When this is all said and done, this will be one of the more positive things that has come out of this effort,” Wexler said of the narcotics division.

After the meeting, Lewis told the News that he expects two recommendations not to be completed under his tenure, which ends in early 2009. Lewis is currently filling out the remainder of a contract left by former chief Francisco Ortiz, who retired to take a job with Yale.

Despite the success so far with the PERF report, Lewis said he probably will not able to bring about a performance appraisal system asked by PERF because it would require thorough negotiations with police unions, which could take a long time. And another recommendation — creating civilian positions — may not be implemented because it would require more money for salaries, money that could be difficult to find given the city’s budget problems, Lewis said.

Recent shortfalls in the city budget due to the economic downturn have forced the NHPD to cut costs. The department has decreased the amount of overtime hours officers can work by more than half, and the police academy scheduled for April is being delayed until July in a further effort to cut costs. Additionally, because of financial constraints, the NHPD has eliminated two unnamed administrative positions, and currently vacant positions are unlikely to be filled.

After the meeting, Washington said she appreciates what the department has done so far. But she added that “it is going to take some time” for New Haven to become comfortable with the new police department.

Updates on the NHPD’s progress with the PERF recommendations will be posted on a worksheet to be posted on the NHPD Web site this week. Police officials said the worksheet will be released to the public in order to increase transparency.