Former New Haven Police Department Chief Dean Esserman announced his resignation on Sept. 6. But more than a week later, the city has not yet launched the search for his replacement.
According to city spokesman Laurence Grotheer, Mayor Toni Harp is still finalizing plans for the new police chief search, though she intends to include input from a “broad range” of community members. As per the terms spelled out in the New Haven City Charter, the city police chief must have had at least five years of experience in the “management and direction of supervisors of operations of a police department with at least 200 employees serving a population of at least 100,000 residents.” Contenders for the position must also have acquired at least a bachelor’s degree from an institution of higher education, according to the charter.
“For the near future it is Mayor Harp’s priority for the New Haven Police Department to combine the positive trend in the city of steadily declining crime rates with stability and continuity among police department command,” Grotheer said.
After Esserman first stepped away from his position on July 25 to serve a 15-day leave of absence due to conduct “unbecoming [of] a public official,” Assistant Chief Anthony Campbell stepped up to the role of interim police chief. Since Esserman’s direct transition into an indefinite sick leave at the end of the first leave, Campbell has been at the helm of the department for what now totals 52 days.
Harp has not yet confirmed if Campbell will be the one to permanently fill the new position. According to the police department website, Campbell has been in the department for 18 years. He began his career in the patrol division, and was later promoted to sergeant in 2009 and lieutenant in 2013. Campbell was most recently promoted to assistant chief, a position he held until his interim role as police chief.
Still, it remains unclear if Campbell fits all the requirements to become the city’s permanent police chief.
NHPD spokesman David Hartman declined to comment. Recent NHPD press releases have not included details on the replacement process for the chief.
Though, according to Grotheer, Harp plans to consider the input of the community when making a decision on the new chief, some Elm City residents have been vocal in expressing their concern. Community activist Barbara Fair, who sits on the mayor’s police task force, said she is “as in the dark” as the rest of community about the plan going forward. The task force was created last May following an incident during a St. Patrick’s Day parade when an NHPD officer knocked to the ground a 15-year-old girl who was subsequently arrested.
The incident was caught on video and stirred outrage in the city, ultimately inspiring many residents to protest in the streets. Since then, the task force has been responsible for assessing the NHPD’s community policing strategy.
“One of the greatest concerns we have with this administration is not knowing much about anything,” Fair said.
She noted that, for example, city residents only found out the terms of an agreement between the city and Esserman for his first 15-day leave once the group People Against Injustice — a New Haven-based social justice organization — filed a request under the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act for the document containing the conditions of Esserman’s leave.
In an interview with the News last week, PAI spokesperson Jane Mills said New Haven now faces the difficult situation of having to choose a new chief without clarity on what the city and its constituents are searching for.
Fair said she and other community voices planned to meet Harp in order to “encourage her to listen and respect the voices of the people.” She added that it would be important to have a chief that has been part of the community, as community engagement is a “must” in gaining the public trust.
However, Fair said at least two other candidates aside from the current interim chief are being considered to replace Esserman. The two officers that have been approached so far include one official from Waterbury and a former New Haven officer who had served as chief in another state, Fair said. She declined to comment further on the two candidates until an official decision has been reached.
Esserman was first appointed as NHPD chief in 2011.