Although New Haven’s murder rate nearly doubled in 2010, this year, the city will soon be cutting New Haven Police Department jobs.
In the wake of a budget gap that is expected to reach $254 million over four years, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announced in his Feb. 7 State of the City address that he would lay off city employees, including police and firefighters. NHPD Union President Sgt. Lou Cavaliere said he had heard that there would be 16 layoffs from the force. He added that he understands the need to ameliorate the budget gap, but added that he will fight any cuts to the police force, the first layoffs in the 43 years that he has been with the department. City Hall Spokesman Adam Joseph said New Haven’s economic situation is forcing the city to make these cuts. These layoffs are hitting a department already coping with internal tensions: the mayor and the union leadership has begun to work with the NHPD chiefs to address the landslide “no confidence” vote against the police management earlier this month.
Cavaliere said that a decreased police force would mean that fewer officers would be available to respond to calls, potentially forcing them to be undermanned in dangerous situations. Cavaliere went so far as to say that, in order to preserve officer safety, he will instruct the rank and file not to respond to calls if they do not have backup.
Joseph said that the proposed layoffs are part of the administration’s efforts to examine areas for savings across all city departments. The city is looking for the best fiscal solution that is fair to both residents and taxpayers, he added.
Still, Cavaliere maintains that the fairest solution for residents is one that does not cut police jobs.
“It’s very dangerous for the mayor to cut police services: shootings and violence are out of control,” he said. “I don’t know if he should sell City Hall and work out of a parking garage, or what. But you do not cut public safety.”
Despite the unions’ protests, DeStefano has said the city is left with few options aside from layoffs.
After announcing the impending layoffs, DeStefano admitted he contributed to an unsustainable system city employment system during his eighteen years as mayor.
“I signed every one of those union contracts, I’ve had ownership over that system, but it’s a different time now,” DeStefano said last week.
The battle over layoffs is the second major controversy to strike the NHPD this month. A Feb. 3 vote of “no confidence” against the Chief Frank Limon, Assistant Chief Tobin Hensgen and Assistant Chief Thomas Wheeler was a landslide referendum on the department’s low morale: officers voted 246 to 21 for a “no confidence” verdict.
Immediately after the vote results were announced, Cavaliere told the News that he expected the mayor to contact him to try and ease tensions in the department. This meeting took place on Monday, Cavaliere told the News on Tuesday.
Although Joseph said that it was against city policy to comment on confidential discussion, Cavaliere reported that DeStefano “has taken the bull by the horns,” and begun to work with the chiefs.
He said that the mayor is organizing several sitdown meetings with the chief to discuss the union’s criticisms. But, he added, the union is not confident that this will result in any solutions.
“I don’t know what’s gonna happen,” Cavaliere said. “But the way [the chiefs] are is how they are. They have a disregard for closeness with the rank and file, and they don’t like unions. They won’t be genuine, and I don’t need someone to work with me who isn’t genuine.”
Still, Cavaliere said, he will enter any conversations with the leadership with an open mind.
When talk of a “no confidence” vote first began in September, Cavaliere said, he was initially against the idea because he wanted to give the new leadership time to respond to criticism. He eventually convinced the union to wait, temporarily easing tensions.
The all-day “no confidence” vote has no legal or official implications, but is intended to send a message to the city that something needs to change.
Richard Gudis, an attorney for the police union, released a statement following the vote that 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.”
The last time the NHPD voted “no confidence” was in 2005. At the time, 87 percent of rank and file voted against then-Chief Francisco Ortiz. The referendum against Limon represented over 92 percent of votes.
Alon Harish contributed reporting.