Adrian Kuleza, Staff Photographer

The application for chief of the New Haven Police Department officially opened this week, following a three month period of back-and-forth over whether Interim Chief Renee Dominguez was fit for the role. 

The Board of Alders voted in December against Dominguez’s proposed transition from acting chief into the role of permanent chief. In the wake of that rejection, Dominguez removed her name from consideration, and the city announced it would launch a nationwide search to find a new chief. In the interim period between her stepping down and the application opening, Rev. Boise Kimber sued Dominguez for remaining in her interim position since her resignation. Meanwhile, Mayor Justin Elicker, who appointed Dominguez to the role in early December, has defended his stance that she was the right candidate for the position. Elicker again defended his support for Dominguez in a press conference he held alongside Chief Administrative Officer Regina Rush-Kittle Wednesday afternoon to announce the open application for chief. 

Elicker said he is looking for a chief who will “embrace” the community policing concept New Haven practices and who has the ability to navigate collaboration with other departments through the lens of public safety. 

“My definition, and I hope the applicants that are interested in this job share this definition, is that safety isn’t just about police,” Elicker said. 

Elicker and Rush-Kittle also announced the release of surveys and two community meetings for New Haven residents to provide input throughout the hiring process. 

“The city of New Haven deeply cares about what the community feels the attributes of the future chief of police should be,” Elicker said in the press conference announcement at City Hall. 

The community survey is available in both Spanish and English on the city’s website. Paper versions of the survey will also be available in New Haven Public Libraries and at the City Hall front desk until April 29. 

The survey asks residents what they think the NHPD should prioritize, what attributes and qualities in a chief are important for the city to emphasize and how the NHPD can make New Haveners feel safer. 

“With the survey for our residents and police department members we’re hoping to draw a robust number of responses with open and honest feedback to assist in our process,” Rush-Kittle said on Wednesday. 

The city-hired search consultant firm Ralph Andersen & Associates will process the survey results and deliver a summary of the resulting information to city officials as they sort through candidates. 

Members of Ralph Andersen have already spoken with some representatives on the Board of Alders, Board of Police Commissioners, Yale Police Department and several other “key stakeholders” for input, according to Rush-Kittle. She added that Ralph Andersen has not yet given her or Elicker any feedback from those conversations yet. She did not note when they will begin processing survey results. 

Along with the community survey, residents will have another chance to share their input on the process in two virtual town halls this month. Those meetings are scheduled to take place on April 12 at 6 p.m. and on Wednesday April 20 at 6:30 p.m. Both meetings will be live streamed at City Hall in meeting rooms one and two.   

Rush-Kittle said the city worked with Ralph Andersen to post the application on numerous law enforcement recruitment sites including the FBI National Academy, the National Association of Women in Law Enforcement Executives, the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, National Asian Police Officer Association, International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association. 

The applications for chief are due May 8. 

Rush-Kittle declined to provide a specific number estimate of how many applications the city anticipates they will receive but said they are hoping that “as many as are eligible” apply. 

When asked by one reporter to comment on concerns over a lack of community engagement and involvement in the process, Elicker abruptly responded, “I don’t think that’s accurate.”

Elicker claimed that there were just “several members of the community” who felt there was not enough input. 

Dominguez’s rejection in December was decided by a voice vote. At the time, alders including Majority Leader and Ward 27 Richard Furlow and Downtown Ward 7 Alder Eli Sabin urged fellow alders to give a “resounding ​nay” to the appointment. 

“I didn’t in the end agree with the decision, I felt strongly that Chief Dominguez was the right fit, but I also think it’s important for us to look forward,” Elicker added at the press conference. 

After deciding to withdraw her name from consideration for the role, Dominguez announced she would stay on as interim chief and retire from the force once a replacement is found. Yet since early January, Dominguez has been tangled in a lawsuit alleging she is currently occupying the role of interim chief illegally. 

Six days after Kimber filed that lawsuit against the city for keeping Dominguez as acting chief indefinitely, the city issued a Request for Proposal, or RFP, to recruit a police chief search consultant company. Elicker selected Ralph Andersen, the only firm to apply, in mid-February. 

In an interview with the News about the lawsuit in January, Kimber also alleged that the Elicker administration was dragging their feet in moving on in the process to select a new chief. 

At the press conference Wednesday, Elicker said he is hoping to put a new chief in place “shortly after” applications are due in May. He flickered with some doubt adding that, “these things always take longer than I’d like.”

Elicker said that before beginning the selection process, he did not realize how long it would take. This amount of time though, he added, does allow the city to ensure there are opportunities for community input. 

The virtual community input meetings will take place over Zoom webinars. Register for the April 12 meeting in advance here and the April 20 meeting here

Sophie Sonnenfeld covers cops and courts. She is a first-year in Branford College majoring in anthropology.