Yale Daily News

Mayor Justin Elicker appointed Renee Dominguez as New Haven’s first female chief of police on Wednesday. He also appointed Regina Rush-Kittle as the city’s new chief administrative officer, or CAO.

Dominguez has served as interim chief since March, when former New Haven Police Department Chief Ontonel Reyes retired from the force to head security at Quinnipiac University. As interim chief, Dominguez has overseen the seizure of hundreds of guns tied to shooting and domestic violence-related arrests, led recruitment for new officers across the city and, in April, defended cops displaying the “Thin Blue Line” flag, arguing that it represented solidarity among law enforcement officers. Elicker also appointed Rush-Kittle as CAO, a position that oversees the police, fire and public works departments for City Hall. Both positions must be affirmed by a vote from the full Board of Alders in a confirmation process that Elicker said will begin Monday. 

“These are two incredibly experienced leaders and together they’re going to greatly contribute to our efforts to reimagine public safety,” Elicker said at a Wednesday morning press conference.

Over the past five months, he said he has seen Dominguez lead with “passion and determination.” Elicker noted Dominguez’s leadership of the department through a nationwide rise in violent crime, losing an officer on the force and in “holding officers accountable to maintain the integrity of the department.” 

“Chief Dominguez has proved herself as a strong leader and the right person for the job,” he said. 

Elicker also pointed to Dominguez’s role in assisting the city in the creation of a Community Crisis Response Team under the new Community Resilience Department that Elicker proposed in August

“The chief has always been willing to step up and partner with us to make sure those initiatives are successful,” Elicker added. 

Dominguez began her career in law enforcement 22 years ago and has been with the NHPD since 2002. In her time with the NHPD, Dominguez has served in a number of roles including patrol officer, K-9 handler, hostage crisis negotiator, patrol sergeant, district manager of Westville, Fair Haven and Newhallville, and assistant chief of patrol operations. 

Dominguez has two daughters, who are six and three years old, and her husband is an officer with the Bridgeport Police Department. “We will not hold that against you,” Elicker joked at the press conference. 

Elicker called Dominguez’s appointment “historic,” explaining that she is not only the first permanent female chief in New Haven but also the first of any “major city” in the state. 

“It says that the chief has worked hard in a career that has traditionally been dominated by men,” he continued. “She has risen through the ranks, earned the respect of her colleagues and community members all while managing the responsibilities of being a mother.”

Dominguez began working in law enforcement at age 21. “My entire adult life has been dedicated to serving the community,” she said.

She said that one of her “best times” in the department was working as the Westville-West Hills District Manager for two and a half years. In her years as the neighborhood’s top cop, Dominguez got engaged, married and had kids. 

“At the time I thought running a district was difficult,” Dominguez said. “Little did I know what was in store for me over the next six years.”

Reading to children at kindergartens and preschools around the city and making personal connections with residents through her time in New Haven, she said, have also been significant moments for her. 

If approved by the alders, Dominguez said she aims to reduce violence in the community and to rebuild the ranks of the department by filling open slots.  

“It means for all the little girls and it means for all the women in the New Haven police department and everyone in the community who wants to be a police officer, you can do it,” Dominguez said. “Come on over, we need you.”

Congratulating Rush-Kittle, she added, “We’re going to be a powerhouse of females.”

At the press conference, Fire Commissioner and Bethel AME Church Rev. Steve Cousin recalled partnering with the NHPD for a house renovation community service project. He remembered that Dominguez was the first to arrive. He said he was impressed by her dedication. 

When the Fire Department lost firefighter Ricardo Torres Jr. and Fire Lt. Samod Rankins was injured in an incident in May, Cousin said Dominguez displayed empathy. “She stayed right there with us and did not leave until we left. This is who we want as our leader.” 

“We need conviction, compassion and empathy,” Cousin said. “Those qualities are in full with Chief Dominguez.”

Elicker said the search for the next CAO was long but “worthwhile.” 

Rush-Kittle, the Elm City’s next CAO, began her law enforcement career with the Connecticut Department of Correction and then as a police officer in Middletown. She then served with the Connecticut State Police for almost 30 years and served in the U.S. Marine Reserves. Rush-Kittle was deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, for which she was awarded the Bronze Star Medal. 

Since 2019, Rush-Kittle has served as deputy commissioner of the state Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. 

Elicker said that as he made calls to leaders across the state about Rush-Kittle. He heard many compliments about her leadership and work. 

“The cultural diversity and the history of this vibrant city inspire me in my commitment to New Haven, the board of alders and the community,” Rush-Kittle said at the press conference. 

As CAO, Rush-Kittle said she is looking to support collaboration between public safety departments in the city.

If approved by the board of alders, Rush-Kittle’s start date is Dec. 6. 

Sophie Sonnenfeld covers cops and courts. She is a sophomore in Branford College majoring in Political Science and Anthropology.