In a no-confidence vote Thursday, the New Haven police union voted 170–42 against New Haven Police Department Chief Dean Esserman.
The vote was scheduled at a June 15 union meeting in response to rising concerns within the department under Esserman’s command, including “poor morale, hostile work environments, intimidation, retaliation, lack of leadership quality and [Esserman’s] inability to make sound decisions,” according to a Wednesday union press release.
The vote is non-binding, but the NHPD has a history of adhering to such referendums: When Esserman rose to his current position in 2011, he replaced then-chief Frank Limon, who left his role after the union went 246–21 against him in a no-confidence vote.
Esserman said he plans to engage with officers in light out of the outcome.
“The New Haven Police Department and its officers have much to contribute with their professionalism and commitment to community policing,” Esserman said Thursday. “This labor dispute, during this present period of labor negotiations for a new contract, is important and I will sit down to listen and to work together towards a resolution.”
When the vote was scheduled last month, Esserman said he would learn from the vote, noting that “many chiefs across the country go through no-confidence votes at some time in their tenure.”
Union president Craig Miller did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Thursday. New Haven Police Department spokesman David Hartman could not be reached for comment.
In a statement on Thursday night following the results of the vote, Mayor Toni Harp thanked the union members who voted for their input on police department command. But she did not address what steps may be taken to adjust Esserman’s position in the department.
“In New Haven, the mayor is the appointing authority for the police chief, and the chief, like other administration officials, is subject to a performance evaluation each year and serves at the pleasure of the mayor,” she said.
New Haven Board of Police Commissioners Chairman Tony Dawson said the department has seen five years of declining crime rates in the city — “results any city would be gratified to see.” Dawson did not mention the possibility of removing Esserman from his role.
There has been longstanding debate on whether Esserman is fit to lead the department.
For the past several months, NHPD officers have operated a fleet of squad cars in poor condition. Last year, the police union filed a complaint with the state’s Board of Labor Relations alleging that the fleet creates unsafe conditions for the New Haven officers.
And in recent months, an increasing number of officers have left the department, moving to roles in other cities or departments. These include Assistant Police Chief Al Vazquez, Captain Julie Johnson, Lieutenant Makiem Miller and Lieutenant Herb Sharp.
Criticism for the chief’s conduct has come also from outside his department. According to reports by the New Haven Independent, at a board of alders meeting last month multiple alders criticized the chief and his department of withholding information from the board and disrespecting its constituents.
At that meeting, Annex Alder Alphonse Paolillo Jr. proposed a series of amendments that would increase transparency in the police department; the board approved all proposals unanimously.
The department was again criticized in May, after the alleged beating of a New Haven resident by police officers. The incident provoked New Haven’s Black Lives Matter group to hold a demonstration calling for a reform of the city’s police department and a reduction of police misconduct.
And as far back as 2014, Esserman came under public scrutiny when an assistant professor at the Yale School of Public Health accused Esserman of verbally harassing an usher during a Yale home football game. Mayor Toni Harp publicly reprimanded Esserman in response to the complaint.
“As the City’s chief law enforcement officer, you must understand the importance of the position you hold and behave in a manner that dignifies the office,” Harp said. “That is only possible if you take this letter seriously and ensure that the actions of Sept. 27th are never again repeated.”
The turmoil in the department comes just two months after city officials announced that crime in the Elm City is at its lowest in five years.