Natalie Kainz, Multimedia Managing Editor

On Monday night, the Board of Alders rejected Mayor Justin Elicker’s appointment of Renee Dominguez as permanent New Haven police chief through Jan. 31, 2022. 

After discussing Dominguez’s record at their bimonthly meeting, the board ultimately voted to deny her appointment. Dominguez has served as interim chief of police since March. Elicker, who believed Dominguez was the “right fit for the job,” called the decision “disappointing” and “disheartening.” While some alders supported Dominguez’s appointment, noting that her term would only last two months, others against the appointment were disappointed by Dominguez’s lack of vision for creating a diverse police department and for curbing a rise in homicides in New Haven. Furthermore, members of Unidad Latina en Acción criticized her support of the “thin blue line” flag

Elicker declared his intent to resubmit Dominguez’s appointment for consideration in two weeks. If the Board of Alders then vote not to approve her, she will not be able to hold the role of police chief again.

“The timing and process of this proposed appointment required a thorough, detailed and nuanced plan for the future of the department that was acceptable to the community and engendered trust,” a statement by the Board of Alders released after the vote read. “When we are confident that there is a real strategic plan that includes the recruitment of diverse employees, training and advancement of officers to all levels in the department, action on improving closure rates, successful efforts toward decreasing homicides, and tackling the violence afflicting our city, then and only then can we move forward together.”

Before the meeting, on the steps of City Hall, activists from Unidad Latina en Acción and Black and Brown United in Action protested Dominguez’s appointment on the grounds that she is a “racist cop” under whom gun violence has surged and promotions have been disproportionately given to white officers, rather than Black or Latino officers. They chanted, “No la queremos,” or “We don’t want her,” and distributed flyers against Dominguez’s appointment. 

“If the Board of Alders would do their research, they would realize that she does not fit the profile they created in the charter,” said Catherine John, a coordinator with ULA. “She did her diversity thing, but she doesn’t believe in diversity or equity. It was just a checkbox.”

During the protest, John Jairo Lugo, the community organizing director of ULA, said that he had made “700 calls” to the police department over the past weekend against the appointment. 

As the Board of Alders meeting began, the protesters brought their signs, flags that read “NHPD Guilty — New Haven Against Police Brutality” and microphones inside City Hall.

“There were 24 deaths [over the past year] that have not really been fully investigated at all, mostly happening to Black and brown people within the city of New Haven,” said Briam Timko, a New Haven community member and supporter of ULA. “And that’s unacceptable. … They’re still waiting for answers.” 

When the Board of Alders came to the contentious agenda item of whether to approve or deny the appointment of Dominguez as chief of police, many were conflicted in their choice. 

Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa advocated for Dominguez’s appointment, given that “all eyes” would be on Dominguez’s leadership over the next two months. She acknowledged the need to “put pressure” on the police department, given the 25 homicides so far this year in New Haven. Ward 21 Alder Steven Winter also supported Dominguez’s appointment and said that it was “not fair to hold Dominguez accountable for the issues of her department.” Winter also cited the fact that the current police recruit class is more diverse than previous recruit classes. While the previous two recruit classes were 48 and 50 percent white, respectively, the current recruit class is 44.5 percent white.  

“This department does not have one Black person in its administration that sits around the table,” Rev. Boise Kimber, local civil rights leader and pastor of the First Calgary Baptist Churches in New Haven and Hartford said at a Nov. 29 press conference. “First of all, we have nine districts. And we have nine white district captains. How can we patrol a city that looks like us in the community, but does not look like us in the police department?”

Richard Furlow, alder for Ward 27, agreed that diversity, having “assistant chiefs who look like us,” in the police department was necessary. He gave a “resounding nay” at the alder meeting. 

Other alders were concerned about Dominguez’s lack of concrete plans. 

Ward 1 Alder Eli Sabin wanted to see definite steps that the police department would take “to increase trust, increase diversity, [and] make sure our police department is trusted by our residents.” Ward 25 Alder Adam Marchand agreed. 

Shortly after the vote to deny Dominguez’s appointment, Elicker released a statement that he will resubmit the appointment, urging the alders to approve the resubmitted appointment. Dominguez has overseen around 100 guns seized as of July 14, and canvassed to recruit more local residents to the police force, Elicker wrote.

“Under [Dominguez’s] leadership we’re in the process of rebuilding the ranks of our department and she has prioritized that the department looks like the community it protects,” Elicker wrote. “For many months she has been implementing our comprehensive plan to combat gun violence.”

Dominguez could not immediately be reached for comment. 

The Board of Alders meets on the first and third Monday of every month at 165 Church St. 

Charlotte Hughes reports on climate and environmental issues in New Haven. Originally from Columbia, South Carolina, she is a freshman in Branford College majoring in English.