After months of serving as the acting chief of the Hamden Police Department, John Cappiello was sworn in as Hamden’s tenth police chief on Monday.
Cappiello’s official appointment as chief follows the retirement of his predecessor Thomas Wydra in 2018. After approval from the Hamden Legislative Council, the swearing-in ceremony took place at Hamden’s Memorial Town Hall to a crowded audience of Cappiello’s family, town officials, police officers and citizens.
“It’s humbling,” Cappiello told the crowd. “When you start out you have aspirations, and you want to achieve them. You want to move up. To finally get to this point, it’s a great moment.”
After 36 years on the force, Cappiello’s employment agreement stipulates a $15,000 raise in the police chief salary and a six-month initial term, with six-month extensions contingent on agreements with Hamden Mayor Curt Leng.
Cappiello’s appointment comes in the wake of heated tensions between Hamden community members and the police department. In April, Hamden police officer Devin Eaton fired 13 shots at two unarmed civilians in New Haven’s Newhallville suburb. The shooting led to protests that rocked both Hamden and New Haven, and demonstrations were recently revived after the State’s Attorney released a report in October leveraging multiple criminal charges against Eaton. Activists have since called for Eaton’s immediate termination and decertification, and Eaton currently remains on unpaid administrative leave pending the results of his criminal trial and the HPD’s internal investigation.
As acting chief in November, Cappiello penned a letter to the Hamden Police Commission — a body responsible for commencing hearings to determine the future of Eaton’s employment on the force — to recommend Eaton’s termination. Cappiello said that Eaton had committed multiple violations of the Hamden Police Rules and Regulations, including “conduct unbecoming,” “neglect of duty” and excessive use of force.
But Hamden Councilman Justin Farmer told the News that he had been “disappointed” by Cappiello’s lack of action in response to incidents of police misconduct. During Cappiello’s time as acting chief, a video that showed two Hamden officers threatening to shoot a Hispanic man at a traffic stop and call ICE on him came to light in July of last year.
Farmer also mentioned frustration at the Hamden Police Department’s apparent disregard for recommendations to changes its practices, which the Hamden Council submitted as a resolution in May.
“I haven’t seen any implementations towards community police,” Farmer told the News on Thursday. “I’ve in fact seen over-policing, and still no real accountability of policing done to the community.”
In his remarks on Monday, Cappiello acknowledged that repairing the divide between the department and Hamden citizens would be a priority during his tenure as chief.
“We need to get back to protecting and serving,” Cappiello said at Hamden’s Town Hall on Monday. “What I think community policing is all about is having a community taking care of itself. We’re here to facilitate and help. We aren’t here to over-police a community. What’s right for one community may not be right for another. It doesn’t all fit in a square box. We’re one Hamden but we have unique needs.”
Cappiello highlighted his desire for police officers to foster personal relationships with town citizens and encourages his patrolmen to spend 15 to 30 minutes of their shifts greeting Hamden residents and engaging in conversation.
In response, local activist Kerry Ellington told the News that she viewed Cappiello’s pledges to be “manipulative” and designed to lull Hamden citizens into a false sense of security.
“Hamden didn’t do enough due diligence to ensure they had a chief that was equipped to really assess the violence coming from the police department or one that was qualified enough to ensure that those issues are lessened,” Ellington said. “They have not changed any of their violent practices and have not held one officer accountable for the violence that has come from the department in the past few years.”
Hamden Mayor Curt Leng has expressed his support for Cappiello over the past weeks, and Leng told the News that he believed Cappiello would positively impact police-community relations.
“In Chief Cappiello, we have a police chief who will help us strengthen the practices we do well, while concurrently embracing the work and new practices we will implement to strengthen bonds between residents and our officer,” Leng said. “All for one goal — making our community safer for everyone.”
Capiello’s eligibility to continue as chief of the department will last for another nine years.
Meera Shoaib | firstname.lastname@example.org