New Haven Police Department Chief Dean Esserman will be one of a handful of current and former police chiefs from across the country involved in a yearlong assignment to offer technical assistance and advice to St. Louis County.
In the wake of the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., the U.S. Department of Justice has taken action in the hope of fixing issues of use-of-force doctrine and racial discrimination. Attorney General Eric Holder recently asked the Community Oriented Police Service — a component of the Justice Department dedicated to community policing — to provide technical and advisory services to St. Louis County. The Police Service, in turn, has transferred the task to the National Police Foundation of Washington, D.C. — a non-partisan research organization dedicated to advancing policing, of which Esserman is a national board member.
The level of assistance the selected officers will provide has not yet been determined, but Esserman said he plans to travel to St. Louis County later in the year for a series of two- to three-day trips.
“I’m honored that New Haven police have been asked to be part of the assembled team,” Esserman said.
NHPD spokesperson David Hartman said that he believes Esserman’s past record as an advocate of community policing puts him in a good position to offer assistance to a region where issues of racial discrimination and use-of-force doctrine have persisted for several decades but only recently come to light. City Hall spokesperson Laurence Grotheer added that Esserman’s commitment to this style of policing has engendered trust and cooperation and resulted in lower crime rates throughout the city.
Esserman helped establish community policing in New Haven in the 1990s under then-Chief Nicolas Pastore before leaving to head the police department in Providence, Rhode Island, where he oversaw a 30 percent drop in overall crime. He returned to become chief in New Haven in 2011 amid calls for a return to the neighborhood-walking-cop style of community policing that had been abandoned in previous years. With strong encouragement from the Board of Alders and Mayor Toni Harp, Esserman has refocused the NHPD’s efforts to emphasize neighborhood involvement.
Community policing is a method of policing that seeks to correct what Esserman sees as the unanticipated consequence of new technology such as police radios and scanners.
“What happens now is you call 911, and a police officer you don’t know shows up at the door,” Esserman said. “Police officers lost the relationships that were so important in helping them service their communities. They became anonymous.”
New Haven is the only city in America that still requires every recruit to engage in active foot patrol in a particular neighborhood or area in the city. In addition, the department has replaced radios and walkie-talkies with cell phones and business cards so that community members can call officers they know when they require assistance, as opposed to the New Haven police force as a whole.
Last March, the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers honored Esserman with the Community Policing Award for his “current, past and continuing efforts in promoting the concepts of community policing, youth empowerment and community service”.
Despite this recent national recognition, Esserman recently garnered criticism after Harp sent him a letter of reprimand in response to his conduct at September’s Yale-Army football game, where he reportedly shouted at an usher during an argument over seating arrangements.
In addition to serving as the NHPD Chief, Esserman teaches a Yale College seminar on “Policing in America”.