New Haven lawmakers are looking inward to find the city’s next police chief, more than one month after former New Haven Police Department Chief Dean Esserman resigned.
In an interview Thursday morning with WNHH radio, Harp said she asked Michael Carter, the city’s chief administrative officer, to form a search committee to find a replacement for Esserman. However, Harp said that although officers from other cities can apply for the position, the New Haven government will be looking specifically for candidates who have had previous involvement with the department. However, she provided neither a specific timeline for the search process nor a description of the members of the search committee.
“What I would like to see are people who have met the qualifications of the charter and the job description apply who have either worked for, at some point, and have done community policing here in New Haven, or are currently working for the department,” Harp said in the radio interview.
Harp specified that the next police chief must have been a “supervisor of supervisors” for five years in a police department of at least 200 employees. According to the New Haven City Charter, that department must be in a city of at least 100,000 residents, and candidates for the position must also have a bachelor’s degree.
Although Assistant Chief Anthony Campbell currently leads the department as interim police chief, city spokesman Laurence Grotheer said Campbell would not automatically slide into the position of permanent police chief. Grotheer added, however, that if Campbell were to apply, he would be a strong candidate.
The search for the city’s next chief of police comes at a time of unusual turnover in top administrative positions in the city. Grotheer noted that in the past few weeks, Harp has been focused on filling the fire-department chief position and finding both an interim and permanent New Haven Public Schools superintendent.
Former Fire Chief Allyn Wright retired this January, and NHPS superintendent Garth Harries stepped down from the position last week. Harp has selected John Alston, a battalion chief from New Jersey, as the next fire chief, though he remains to be sworn in to office. No candidate has been selected for either superintendent position.
“[For] the shorter term, the mayor is very content with Chief Campbell’s position in command, and eager for the stability and continuity that he provides,” Grotheer said.
Stacy Spell, a retired NHPD detective and the project manager of the New Haven branch of Project Longevity, an initiative that seeks to reduce gun violence, said he hopes that New Haven’s next chief of police prioritizes community policing methods and increased community engagement.
“Seeing more engagement where the community gets to interact with the police department — building trust, relationships, bridges — it heightens police legitimacy, meeting that common ground,” Spell said. “The next chief is going to have to be a morale-builder.”
Spell added that the NHPD already has a number of successful community-engagement programs. These include the Police Activities League, which provides athletic programs for New Haven youths, and the New Haven Police Department’s Citizens Academy, an eight-week program that allows citizens to go through police training. The NHPD also held a basketball tournament earlier this week for police officers and community members.
These types of community-building activities, Spell said, have always been a unique and central part of the NHPD, and have attracted national attention.
“Communities such as Houston, Texas; Birmingham, Alabama; and Gary, Indiana, are coming here to see how we are fostering these relationships, these collaborations between the community and law enforcement,” Spell said.
This week is National Community Policing week, an effort by the U.S. Department of Justice to build stronger links between law enforcement and community members.