New Haven Police Department Chief Dean Esserman — best known for bringing Elm City police officers out of their cars and onto walking beats in New Haven’s neighborhoods — will serve on the National Advisory Board of the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, a national effort to improve the relationship between police and the communities they serve.
Last September, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that a $4.75 million grant would fund a national initiative to improve relationships between police and citizens, prompted by a trend of distrust after the events in Ferguson, Mo. Five months later, Esserman has been called to participate in the effort.
The National Initiative is a cooperative effort between the Department of Justice, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Yale Law School, the University of California, Los Angeles and the Urban Institute. The initiative will first focus on identifying U.S. cities where the Board can pilot new policing strategies. Esserman will join Yale Law School professors Tracey Meares and Tom Tyler when the board convenes for the first time next month.
“The New Haven Police Department is proud to be invited to take a leadership role in this important national initiative,” Esserman said in a press release last Wednesday.
NHPD spokesperson David Hartman said that the initiative would highlight three areas that “hold great promise for concrete, rapid progress”: racial reconciliation, procedural justice and implicit bias.
A press release from the Department of Justice in September said the initiative hopes to reignite the public’s trust in policing by investing in training that will focus on evidence-based strategies, policy development and research.
John Jay College President Jeremy Travis said in a Wednesday press release that the initiative is one of the most ambitious and important steps the federal government has taken during his career in criminal justice. “Addressing the broken relationships between the police and communities of color across the nation is a fundamental challenge facing our democracy,” he said.
Esserman has also recently been invited to offer technical assistance and advice to the police force in St. Louis County, Mo., where he will join a group of officers from across the country who have been drafted to help address use-of-force doctrine and racial discrimination.
Hartman said Esserman’s emphasis on community policing has put him in a strong position to assist in areas that may have been suffering a break of trust between the community and the police.
NHPD was one of the pioneers of community policing in the early 1990s, which Esserman continued when he began as chief of police in 2011. He said New Haven is the only city in America that requires all of its police officers to engage in active foot patrol, where they must provide a visible police presence in an assigned neighborhood.
City Hall spokesperson Laurence Grotheer said Esserman’s dedication to community policing has helped to create trust and cooperation between the police and the public. New Haven has seen a drop in crime rates across the city under Esserman’s leadership.
Still, Esserman’s new appointment comes shortly after allegations of misconduct. In December, Mayor Toni Harp sent him a letter of reprimand after he reportedly shouted at an usher at September’s Yale-Army football game.
On Feb. 9, Esserman will join a collection of police officials, professors and organizations who will speak at a teach-in sponsored by Yale’s Department of African American Studies called “Ferguson and Beyond: Race, Policing and Social Justice.”
Esserman first joined the NHPD in 1987.