Two months into his tenure as New Haven Police Department chief, Dean Esserman released his plan for returning New Haven to a community policing model in a meeting Wednesday evening at the Wexler-Grant Community School in Dixwell.
Esserman explained to a crowd of Dixwell and Newhallville residents that his community policing plan will include officers walking beats in the city’s neighborhoods by next week, two new officer training programs — one conducted in Meriden and the other in New Haven — later this spring, and the addition of 40 to 50 officers to the police force by the spring. Along with Esserman, the NHPD’s Newhallville and Dixwell district managers and other officers were present. Aldermen from Wards 19, 20, 21 and 22 also spoke to the crowd.
“There is real excitement around the idea of community policing coming back to New Haven,” moderator Scott Marks, co-founder of the New Haven-based nonprofit organization Connecticut Center for a New Economy, said. “In the 1990s, when community policing was in effect, there was a 40 percent drop in crime. A relationship needs to be built between the police and the community.”
In a press conference after announcing his new role as chief in November, Esserman hinted at his aim to return to Elm City to a community policing model of law enforcement. Esserman’s plan draws on the strategy he helped craft in New Haven in the 1990s, which fell out of favor by the 2000s. Since then, many residents and city officials have publicly lamented the demise of a community policing model.
Ward 20 Alderwoman Delphine Clyburn said voters with whom she spoke during the last aldermanic election said their key concerns were crime, the lack of youth centers and jobs. She said dignity and respect must be shared between the NHPD and residents to ameliorate these problems. Among others, Ward 21 Alderwoman Brenda Foskey-Cyrus said community policing will allow residents to get to know their policemen better.
“I want to bring the old 1990s policing style back — it worked,” Esserman said. “Now, the relationship between the community and the police department is not working well. We lost our way.”
With the reintroduction of walking beats, Esserman promised to walk through Newhallville himself. He said once officers finish their training they will go right to walking beats. He added that cops’ beepers will be replaced with Blackberries to foster better communication with residents.
During the public portion of the meeting, residents raised concerns about poor lighting on streets, violence and drug prevention, the presence of police officers in neighborhoods, the need for more youth centers and services, and the NHPD’s use of Tasers. Newhallville resident Edwina Hall said she belives the city and the NHPD have no plan to address the violence and crime in the city, which she claimed is centered in Newhallville. Unsatisfied with the walking beats plan, she said Newhallville has poor lighting, adding that she is afraid to walk in the area after 6 p.m.
In response to the many questions about the use of Tasers, Esserman said that every deployment will be examined more extensively by an NHPD “use of force” committee of supervisors. Esserman stressed that New Haven will be handling Taser incidents according to a book of national standards that he helped write.
While residents said they often find their local substations — NHPD-owned buildings located in different neighborhoods — empty, Esserman said he encourages neighborhoods to staff them so that police officers can walk the streets. He added that district managers will come in and out of the substations. According to NHPD district managers in Newhallville and Dixwell, officers will be walking beats from 3 to 11 p.m. in Newhallville and at flexible times in Dixwell.
Prior to taking the position of NHPD chief in November, Esserman ran the Providence, R.I. police department.