Adrian Kuleza

As the New Haven Police Department continues to face a significant officer shortage, the department is making strides in recruitment.

That is according to the monthly Board of Police Commissioners meeting, which was held Tuesday, Feb. 13, to discuss officer shortages, crime rates and civilian complaints against the officers. New Haven Police Chief Karl Jacobson addressed the board’s concerns with optimism as he announced various measures aimed at molding a robust police department for years to come.

Assistant Chief of Police Manmeet Bhagtana announced the approval of a list of 40 conditional job offers that the department has delivered to prospective officers, which would fill over half of the department’s open spots.

At the meeting, Jacobson lamented staffing losses initiated by resignations, retirements and transfers to departments in nearby areas. The NHPD currently has 73 open positions after three recent resignations where officers transitioned to surrounding cities with higher pay and enhanced benefits. 

“We have to get our salaries up,” Jacobson said. “These losses are very disappointing.”

To address vacancies, Sergeant Paul Finch has spearheaded a widespread recruitment effort for local high school and college students interested in law enforcement careers.

These staffing shortages have coincided with a stagnation in crime rates across the city. 

“There were five homicides and ten shootings by this time last year,” Jacobson said. “This year, there have only been two homicides and two shootings.”

Jacobson attributed these strides to work by the City Youth Department and coordinated action on violent crime. 

There was a five percent uptick in auto theft from last year, with Kia and Hyundai models being at exceptional risk for burglary in the city, according to Jacobson. He added that juveniles who perpetrate these crimes have been given special attention through probation and coordination with the City Youth Department.

Lieutenant Jessie Agosto also announced 19 complaints issued against police officers — mostly an assortment of miscellaneous offenses with five neglect of duties. 

According to Agosto, a woman filed a grievance against a sergeant for excessive force during detainment. The woman allegedly reported that the sergeant pushed her sister while apprehending her. The NHPD deemed the force as justified according to their internal affairs procedure, but Commissioner Tracey Meares questioned the department’s policies.

Meares, a professor at Yale Law School, spoke about the necessity of reevaluating codes and procedures implemented by former police chiefs. Those standards, she said, may not be up to date with current standards of good policing. 

“The use of force may be consistent with policy, but consistence with policy could also be avoidable,” said Meares. 

The Board of Police Commissioners concluded their meeting with nominations and elections for the chair and vice chair positions. Evelise Ribeiro was unanimously reelected chairwoman.

Michael Lawlor, a member of the Board of Police Commissioners and criminal justice professor at the University of New Haven, nominated Donald Walker to return as vice chair of the board. 

“He has been a mentor in many respects and he’s just a phenomenal leader in our community,” Lawlor said about Walker. “We are lucky to have him in the process once again.”

Walker was also unanimously elected vice chairman. 

The Board of Police Commissioners meeting was held at 6 p.m. on Zoom.