The New Haven Police Department has no confidence in its leadership.
In a landslide 246 to 21 vote, officers of the local 530 police union voted Thursday in protest of NHPD Chief Frank Limon, Assistant Chief Tobin Hensgen and Assistant Chief Thomas Wheeler, all of whom arrived in New Haven from Chicago less than a year ago. In an all-day vote, rank-and-file members of the NHPD passed a referendum on low morale and disappointment with the department’s top officers. Although the vote has no legal or official implications, its purpose is to send a message to the city that something needs to change, Union President Sgt. Lou Cavaliere said.
“This overwhelming vote shows that the chief has a serious problem,” Cavaliere said.
Contrary to previous reports, he said, the union vote was not spurred by any specific complaints or incidents.
“It’s not about pensions, like Mr. Limon would like to imply. It’s not about health benefits, Mayor [John] DeStefano, and it’s certainly not about contracts,” Cavaliere said. “It’s about low morale, and the safety of our men and women in uniform.”
Limon said he was disappointed in the vote, but that it would not affect his overall mission.
“The people of New Haven have the right to expect their police department to improve public safety in their city and strengthen community trust while being a professional organization,” he said. “I have not lost confidence in my officers or in our ability to work together to achieve these goals. I will not be distracted from the job I was hired to do.”
In the weeks leading up to the vote, Limon declined to comment on many specific complaints, but he told the News on Wednesday that he plans to “push ahead with the goals of the department and with our strategy of reducing crime.” Limon added that he was confident that his command staff is affording the rank and file everything they need.
Cavaliere said that it is Limon who is keeping the officers from getting everything they need.
He also said the chief is endangering officers’ lives by denying them bulletproof vests and AR-15 rifles ordered under former chief James Lewis.
NO CONFIDENCE IN THE LEADERSHIP
Richard Gudis, an attorney for the police union, released a statement following the vote that delineated other criticisms of the police leadership.
The statement said that Limon and his assistant chiefs have not “demonstrated a command presence and [have] failed to build on strategic, operational and tactical strategies necessary to manage the NHPD.” It also charged that the administration manages by “fear, intimidation and retaliation.”
The union statement also said Limon has violated union law and a collective bargaining agreement by not allowing union representatives into some meetings. Cavaliere said that the first time he met Limon, the new chief told him that he did not always believe it was best to follow the specifics of a union contract.
Gudis added that, under Limon, “freedom of movement has been denied to both citizens and the police force.”
These grievances formed to create the lowest departmental morale in recent history, Cavaliere said. He added that officer morale had never been higher than when Lewis led the department, but Limon had diminished this since he and his assistant chiefs arrived from Chicago in April 2010.
While the union officers said the vote was only a referendum on low morale, Limon and others have hinted in the press that issues of contract negotiations and potential pension cuts factor directly into the timing of the vote. The union’s three-year contract will expire on June 30, and negotiations would normally begin in January or February, Cavaliere said.
Limon has some aldermanic support in these upcoming negotiation.
“The city is in trouble here in terms of finances, and we have to be in a situation where everybody works together and makes compromises,” Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark said. “This vote of no confidence is not quite fair.”
Cavaliere said the turnout of the vote was unexpectedly large, and that it proves the officers care strongly about the issue. He added that Limon and others had previously claimed that the union leadership called for the vote as a contract tactic.
In fact, Cavaliere said he was initially against holding a “no confidence” vote. In September, when the issue had first been raised by some officers, he said he talked them out of the idea because he wanted to give the new chief a chance to turn things around.
Now that the vote has past, all that remains for the city is to decide how to proceed. Cavaliere said that he expects the mayor to become involved.
“The mayor doesn’t want a hostile work environment,” he said. “We [the union executive board] have to sit down with the mayor and the chiefs.”
DeStefano could not immediately be reached for contact.
During the vote, Limon received some extra support from more than just the 21 officers who voted to support him. Some Elm City residents rallied to support his handling of the department on Monday outside police headquarters.
NO CONFIDENCE IN THE FORCE
Monday’s rally was not an isolated incident. While the union was demonstrating no confidence in its leadership, some Elm City residents also showed that they have no confidence in some police officers. Citizens seeking to benefit from the vote’s media attention protested police brutality and union leadership outside of police headquarters.
Almost 20 protesters from New Haven Against Police Brutality stood outside of the NHPD headquarters Thursday evening in what several group members said was an attempt to benefit from some of the media coverage of the “no confidence” vote.
“We are voting ‘no confidence’ in violent police and ‘no confidence’ in police carrying semi-automatic [AR-15] rifles,” the group’s press statement said.
The group, which was created after the Oct. 2 raid on the Morse-Stiles Screw at the Elevate night club, was represented by Yale students and local residents, and opinions varied on the importance of the vote. Cavaliere, the union leader heading the assault on Limon, took some flack of his own at the protest.
“We’re not out to attack the union, the union is a good institution,” NHAPB member Blest Peters said. “We’re against the leaders of this union.”
Megan Fountain, one of the lead organizers for the group said that the protesters oppose arming officers, and that they will have the same mission regardless of the vote’s outcome.
In response to the protesters and their criticisms of union leadership, Cavaliere said “they don’t work here.”
The no-confidence vote began at 6:30 a.m. and ended at 7 p.m.
Alon Harish contributed reporting.