Around a dozen members of the public lingered outside closed doors of the Board of Police Commissioners’ meeting Tuesday evening, while inside alders raised concerns about New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman’s conduct at the Yale-Army football game last September.
Alders attended the meeting to follow up on the Dec. 22 letter Ward 7 Alder Abigail Roth ’90 LAW ’94 sent to Mayor Toni Harp and Police Commissioners’ Chair Tony Dawson. The letter, which was signed by seven alders including Roth, took issue with what they called Esserman’s “disrespectful behavior” at the Yale Bowl and attributed it to a “broader pattern of arrogant behavior.” Dan Weinberger, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, reported in a Dec. 11 letter to the Board of Alders that Esserman “harshly and loudly yell[ed]” at an usher when the chief was asked to present his ticket, threatening to “‘shut the whole game down.’”
“We want to make sure this issue is looked at by the people that have more power than we do,” Roth said. “This is behavior that should not be tolerated in the future.”
Roth said that, though the alders did not have jurisdiction over the chief, the concerned alders sought to pass their message to the mayor and the Board of Police commissioner who, she said, may be able to take action.
At the Tuesday meeting, Dawson gave Esserman, who was at the meeting, the option to request an executive session and exclude the public in the discussion because the matter involved police department personnel, which Esserman accepted. After the closed session, Dawson briefly summarized the alders’ presentation.
“The alders had concerns, and we felt obligated to allow them to come and make a presentation, and they did,” Dawson told the News. “That was the extent of the conversation.”
Roth added that she heard from another alder that the Board of Police Commissioners said they did not have the authority to take action against the chief in this situation. No one who attended the meeting specifically commented on the Board of Police Commissioners’ ability to address the allegations.
In addition to determining that the presentation could be qualified as an executive session, Dawson also moved the item from the end of the agenda to the beginning, causing several alders, including Roth, to be late or to miss the meeting. Roth said that the move, which he claimed was orchestrated to allow the alders to finish their presentation and leave early, was not helpful.
Esserman did not comment on the alders’ concerns after the session but presented a report on the department’s most recent work. He specifically cited a 64.7 percent drop in the homicide rate and a 52.6 percent drop in the rate of shootings since he took office in 2011.
In the report, Esserman attributed the department’s success to a strong relationship between officers and civilians established through NHPD’s policy of assigning each rookie officer a “walking beat” or an area of the city to patrol. Officers have conversations and build connections with the members of the communities in which they patrol, Esserman said.
“We are not mistake-free,” he wrote in the report. “And I am the obvious example of that, but we are a department that is working towards that.”
Esserman added that the police department’s success in refraining from making arrests during the New Haven protests in response to the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases was an example of the trust between NHPD and the city.
“This department, like every other department in the country, has to absolutely work on achieving legitimacy in the eyes of the community,” he said. “We have a long way to go.”