Six months after Dean Esserman stepped down as chief of the New Haven Police Department amid pressure from the mayor and police union, the city has begun to review candidates. Mayor Toni Harp hopes to choose a new top cop by the end of March, according to city spokesman Laurence Grotheer.
New Haven has been without a permanent police chief since Esserman departed on Sept. 2. However, the time period for submitting applications for the position has now closed, Grotheer said, adding that the city’s Chief Administrative Officer Michael Carter has assembled a team to review applications for the position and ultimately suggest a candidate to Harp.
Carter declined to comment on how many applicants his group is considering, who those applicants are and the criteria on which they will be judged. Grotheer said the city did not have a timeline for when Carter’s group will pick a final candidate and present its pick to the mayor.
Former Assistant Police Chief Anthony Campbell has served as the interim chief since Esserman’s departure. In October, Harp said the city would favor applicants with experience within the NHPD over applicants from other departments , and Grotheer said Campbell would be a strong candidate for the job if he were to apply. In an interview with the News on Thursday, Grotheer reiterated that “the mayor has every confidence in the command of … Campbell until such time as a permanent chief is appointed.”
The new chief will fill a post that has been a source of controversy in the past several years. Violent crime in the city dropped substantially over the course of Esserman’s four year term. Many, including the mayor, attributed this success to the NHPD’s commitment to community policing. But the city police union also accused Esserman of contributing to “poor morale, hostile work environments, intimidation [and] retaliation,” as reported by the News in September. The union also criticized him for his “lack of leadership quality and inability to make sound decisions,” voting 170–42 in a no-confidence vote against Esserman in July.
Despite the department’s recent success in reducing crime, some in the city hope the new chief will change internal policies that they say hurt residents. Elm City community activist Barbara Fair said the department needs to double down on its effort to institute community policing.
“[The department] professes community policing, but if you ask the average person on the street they’d say they don’t experience that,” Fair said.
She also said the new chief will need to change policies within the department that allow cops to escape assault charges using policy loopholes. She added that officers know that they will be exonerated regardless of their actions.
Fair said the creation of an independent civilian board with subpoena power to oversee police brutality accusations would give residents a way to address this issue. Fair and other city activists have been fighting for a civilian review board for many years. Although a group is working with city officials to make this board a reality, Fair said neither she nor other city activists she works with serve in this group. This worries her because she does not know what kind of deal that group will negotiate with the city, she said.
The NHPD was formed in 1861.