Standing under both the American and Puerto Rican flag and next to his wife and 10-year-old son, Otoniel Reyes officially become New Haven’s permanent police chief.

A few hundred uniformed officers and New Haven residents filled the atrium of City Hall on Monday to witness Reyes receive his new badge. Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins, former NHPD Chief Dean Esserman, officers from neighboring towns and members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration were among those in attendance.

“I’ve had the opportunity to serve as a law enforcement officer for almost 20 years in one of the best departments in the country, if not the world,” Reyes said to Monday’s crowd. “And I can assure you, ladies and gentlemen, that this has not been a job for me, it has been an honor and a privilege.”

On March 22, Mayor Toni Harp officially named Reyes, a 19-year-veteran of the department who was then serving as assistant chief, as the interim chief of the New Haven Police Department. Reyes replaced Anthony Campbell ’95 DIV ’09, who announced his retirement in February. Campbell went on to join the ranks of the Yale Police Department.

On Monday, Harp led Reyes as he raised his hand and took his oath of office. In an address, Harp cited Reyes’ “core-level commitment to protect and serve the only community he has ever known.” Reyes, who was born and raised in the Elm City, received his bachelor’s degree at Albertus Magnus College and master’s degree from the University of New Haven.

“It is the chief’s ability to rally and unify the department under the umbrella of a home-grown, hometown leader that sets the stage for his effective tenure,” Harp said.

Reyes began his career at the New Haven Police Department in 2000 as a patrol officer. There, he worked as a narcotics enforcement officer for six months, a Drug Enforcement Administration task force officer for a year, a detective for almost three years and a detective sergeant for both the Special Victims Unit and Major Crimes divisions for a total of six years. He then moved on to become a lieutenant before serving as assistant chief of police patrol divisions from March 2016 until three months ago when he was promoted to interim chief.

Bridget Brosnahan, the speaker selected to speak on behalf of Class IX — Reyes’ police academy’s class that graduated almost two decades ago — recalled how she told Reyes that she did not think he “realized the depth in [his] ability” and told him that he would one day become chief.

“And he smiled at me and I knew from that moment that the seed had been planted. It wasn’t imagined; it wasn’t a what-if. It was a vision sealed with a certainty that most people don’t envision until they are one step outside the box,” Brosnahan said.

Reyes went on to share the spotlight with other current and former officers who “honor their badge and risk their lives” in service to the community. Among those celebrated were Gregory Dash — a NHPD officer who responded to the shooting of two brothers and applied a tourniquet to save a victim’s life — and Anthony Duff, an NHPD captain who was shot on scene while responding to an incident while off-duty.

“When you see those social media posts about an officer locally or across the country whose actions to cause you to lose faith in us,” Reyes said. “I ask you to remember we are human beings. I ask you not to lose faith in us.”

Following the formal proceedings, Reyes was met with a line of community members waiting to shake his hand. Leslie Reyes, the chief’s wife, told the News that Reyes has dedicated his life to his career. For her, watching his swearing-in ceremony was a “humbling experience.”

Ronald Huggins, a member of the city’s Youth Services Department, said that Reyes is a man who promotes community policing and works passionately on issues that involve youth. Daniel Hunt, a Hill neighborhood resident and community activist, said he has known Reyes since he was a lieutenant and district manager and has loved watching Reyes rise up the NHPD ladder.

Reyes began working with the New Haven Police Department as a patrol officer in 2000.

Sammy Westfall |