Chanting “no range, no train,” all 71 members of the Yale Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents many Yale Police Department officers and patrolmen, protested the YPD’s new firearm qualification policy on Wednesday afternoon.
The protest, which took place outside the YPD’s headquarters on the corner of Ashmun and Lock streets, concerned a controversial new firearm training rule for YPD officers. Before this summer, when officers failed a test for gun proficiency twice, they entered a 30-day remedial period to improve and could repeat the process of testing and training until they passed. But in June, the Yale Police Department enacted General Order 302C, a policy that added disciplinary actions as severe as dismissal when officers fail to reach a designated level of gun proficiency after being given 30 weekdays to reach that level.
Members of the YPBA held two informational picketing sessions, one at noon and another at 3:30 p.m., to protest the YPD’s alleged lack of good faith in negotiating the current dispute.
Rich Simons, the YPBA president and a YPD patrolman, said he found the new policy restrictive and the 30-day time frame most troubling. He said the University cannot expect officers to pass the test in such a short period without providing them with a reliable location to practice shooting.
“It’s about the time and length that we have to qualify,” Simons said. “We want to be proficient, but you [have] got to give us [time].”
Mike Hall, YPBA spokesman and a YPD patrolman, and Simons said that due to the lack of available nearby shooting ranges, officers have had to travel to neighboring towns to find places to practice. Some officers have traveled as far as Glastonbury, about a one-hour drive from New Haven, preventing them from receiving optimal training, Hall said.
YPD officer Adam Marong said that under former Chief James Perrotti, officers received more intensive firearms training. He said Chief Ronnell Higgins has decreased the amount of training for officers. Marong also said officers used to be able to practice at the New Haven Police Department but can no longer access that location.
In an email to the News, University spokesman Tom Conroy said that YPD officers have sufficient training opportunities and that the NHPD’s shooting range will be available for YPD officers after current renovations there are completed.
“Officers are offered as many opportunities to qualify during the remedial firearms training period as deemed reasonable by them and the instructors,” Conroy said. “The Yale Police has always made firing ranges available for training.”
Wednesday’s picketing also drew support from other university unions, such as Locals 34 and 35, as well as other employees including Yale security guards.
John Maturo, a member of Local 35 and a plumber at Yale’s physical plant, said all the plumbers from Local 35 attended the event to stand in solidarity with his fellow workers.
“I am going to support every part of [the union] organization to make Yale a better place to work, because we need a safe place to work — that’s why I am here to support my brothers,” Maturo said. “We are very strong here.”
After receiving notification of the new general order, the YPBA offered a counterproposal to the University, in which the 30-day remedial training period was extended to 90 days.
But Andrew Matthews, one of the attorneys representing the YPBA, said the University refused to consider this compromise. Higgins was also not interested in the union’s proposal, Hall said.
“There has been no change in their attitude whatsoever,” Hall said. “They’ve given us no update, still refusing to talk to us, refusing to negotiate with us. We are just at a standstill. And that’s why we are out there today.”
YPBA members demanded a statement from Higgins during the Wednesday protest, but he did not come outside to meet them.
This dispute coincides with the ongoing contract negotiation between the YPBA and Yale, but the former has not influenced the latter’s progress, Matthews said. He added that the initial draft of General Order 302C required all YPD members to be proficient with both pistols and rifles, a requirement not found in any police department in Connecticut. After agreeing to remove the rifle qualification requirement, the University and YPBA reached an impasse in further negotiations.
On Sept. 21, the YPBA filed an unfair labor practice grievance with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that the University did not bargain in good faith. After the NLRB found merit in YPBA’s claims, it deferred the case to third-party arbitration, a process that is underway, Matthews said.
He added that Yale and the YPBA have requested a list of viable arbitrators from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Both parties will work in conjunction to find a neutral arbitrator, who will decide whether General Order 302C complies with federal labor regulations.
The final selection can be expected within the coming weeks, Matthews added.
According to Article 16, Section Four of the YPBA contract, either the University or the union can reject the first panel of arbitrators and request a second panel within seven days.