The New Haven Police Department will grow over the next three years in a two-phase strategy aimed at restructuring and strengthening the department.
NHPD Chief Dean Esserman unveiled the plan at the department’s weekly CompStat meeting Tuesday, setting in motion the expansion of the Elm City’s police force that Mayor John DeStefano Jr. previewed earlier this month when he announced his budget proposal, which increases police funding. DeStefano’s budget would swell the NHPD to 467 sworn officers over the next year from the current 397, a move that will allow the department to double the number of walking beats in the city’s 10 districts to 40, fully staff all car beats and double its Internal Affairs division.
All these changes will allow Esserman to more fully realize his community policing efforts, which emphasize engagement with the public and proactive policing, NHPD spokesman David Hartman said.
“The chief would rather have a larger number of people out there detecting crime, building relationships and finding patterns than merely responding to crimes,” Hartman said. “This latest set of changes are consistent with the underlying strategy of community policing and will further encourage the healthy relationship between the people who live in the city and the police department.”
Since taking office in November, Esserman has implemented a slate of changes as part of his efforts to reintroduce community policing strategies he first helped bring to the Elm City in the early 1990s as an NHPD assistant chief. The latest plan, which was officially submitted to the Board of Alderman Monday, will expand the NHPD to 494 budgeted positions within three years and shift more personnel to patrol duties.
When he announced his budget proposal March 1, DeStefano said the increased visibility of officers on walking beats had already had an effect in deterring crimes. Four members of the Board of Aldermen interviewed said the new plans were a positive response to requests they heard from constituents during last year’s election season, in which residents expressed concerns about the city’s violent crime problem. 2011 saw a 20-year high of 34 homicides.
“We’ve had two homicides already this year and 34 last year, so I don’t want to see that crime rate go up,” said Ward 29 Alderman Brian Wingate, chair of the Board’s Public Safety Committee. “We want to be proactive, not reactive, but we also have to be smart where the money is coming from.”
DeStefano said the initial enlargement of the NHPD will be only to the size currently budgeted by the city, while additional expansion may become possible thanks to the city’s projected $7.5 million increase in property tax revenue and other savings in administrative expenditures.
But Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04, a member of the Board’s public safety and finance committees, said he did not see where DeStefano was “getting the money from.” Still, Hausladen said he hoped the department could expand sustainably and that he had received much positive feedback from residents of his ward about the walking beats in the downtown area.
As well as the assignment of additional officers to patrol capacities, Esserman’s new plan will double the Internal Affairs division, a move that DeStefano said will better “police the police.” Hartman said the expansion will double a “currently depleted staff” and will ensure continued strong police professionalism.
The new strategy also calls for restoring the number of school resource officers to 12. By addressing crime perpetrated by students, Hartman said the school resource officers will further help deter youth criminal activity and deal with students who are the victims of crime.
Collectively, the mayor’s support of the NHPD’s new strategy demonstrates his commitment to ensuring Esserman’s vision can be translated into reality, said Richard Epstein, chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners.
Esserman’s proposal will also augment the NHPD’s media relations by creating a new “community communications manager” position, Hartman said. While he said he was unsure when the position would be filled, it would affect his job greatly by “allowing [him] to get some sleep.”
The first 20 candidates of the year for the NHPD’s police academy were officially cleared Thursday after they passed physical agility tests, Hartman said.