Chief Considers Longer Stay

by Paul Bass | November 23, 2009 1:03 PM | | Comments (30)

newejalew.pngNew Haven’s trouble-shooting top cop plans to decide this week whether to remain in town longer than expected.

Chief James Lewis said Monday he has been discussing with his family and the mayor whether to continue running the department for as long as an extra year once his 18-month contract ends Jan. 31.

At this point he’s leaning against that idea, he said. But he has agreed to remain on the job long enough for the city to find a permanent replacement.

And city officials — who are in no rush to see the popular Lewis leave town — haven’t even begun searching for someone new.

“We have not begun a formal search, although this is something I do think about,” said city Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts. Smuts oversaw the search that brought Lewis here. “I haven’t talked to any potential chief candidate.”

Lewis currently makes $150,000 a year. The salary range for the job maxes out at $160,000.

“I think the chief has done an outstanding job,” said Mayor John DeStefano, who sat down with Lewis to discuss the future after winning reelection on Nov. 3 in a campaign remarkably free of complaints about the police department.

Lewis has not held open the possibility of staying four years, which is the official length of a police chief’s contract.

The city drafted Lewis to come to New Haven in July of 2008 to spend 18 months overseeing a shake-up of the department — instituting broad new rules, rebuilding the narcotics division, developing new leadership, carrying out a reorganization designed by an outside panel of experts. Crime has dropped since his arrival. Wayward cops have been disciplined. A traffic enforcement initiative is underway. For the first time in memory New Haven is joining most other cities in reporting crime statistics to the FBI. Lewis himself has been all over town getting to know people and responding to complaints. The department’s handling of the high-pressure Annie Le murder case received particularly high marks. (Click on the play arrow to watch snippets from his announcement about the arrest of a suspect.)

Police Commission Chairman Richard Epstein said no one’s in a rush to see Lewis return home to Wisconsin.

“If he’d say he’d stay for four years, we’d be thrilled,” Epstein said. “Everyone thinks he’s done a good job. He’s reorganized the department. He’s improved morale. The community likes him.”

Lewis expressed no desire to park here four more years. “It has nothing to do with the PD itself,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed working with the PD.”

Rather, he called the question of whether to spend another year here a “family” and “quality of life issue.”

He and his wife Kris have been renting an apartment on Temple Street. They are on a month-to-month lease.

“I won’t stay living in an apartment. We now have my 88-year-old mother-in-law living with us. It’s too difficult living in an apartment,” Lewis said.

To stay another year, Lewis said, he’d need to find a house in the city. It doesn’t make sense to buy for just a year and then try to resell a home in the current market, he noted. “I could lose a fortune.” Plus, the family’s holding on to a “nice very large home in Wisconsin.” He called the rental housing market “difficult.”

Lewis was asked if he knows of cities that have used housing incentives to lure or keep chiefs. “Some cities do do that. A chief was just hired in San Francisco. They helped him with housing,” Lewis responded. But “that’s not something they’ve done here [in New Haven] historically.” He stressed that he is no way “applying pressure on the city to do that.”

He said his decision “will be solidified in the next week or so whether we’ll consider” staying in New Haven the extra year.

“We’ve enjoyed it here. The guys are doing good work. There’s still good work to do. It shouldn’t be contingent on my being here.”

Lewis said he expects Assistant Police Chief Roy Brown, who came here with him, to leave town when he does. Another assistant chief who accompanied Lewis to New Haven from California, Ken Gillespie, is known to be looking for chief’s positions.

Lewis said he believes Gillespie “would certainly be a good applicant” for the job in New Haven. Gillespie was out of town Monday and unavailable for comment.

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Posted by: Beaver Hill Resident | November 23, 2009 1:12 PM

Please stay, Chief Lewis. New Haven needs you. We have made a lot of progress under your administration, and we do not want to regress. That might happen if you leave at this point.

Posted by: cedarhillresident [TypeKey Profile Page] | November 23, 2009 1:16 PM

Chief Lewis,
You have become a part of our city and have made some positive changes here. PLEASE!!! Stay!

Posted by: AndersonScooper | November 23, 2009 1:40 PM

Chief, please, please stick around, even if it's only for an additional year or two!

I really feel that the NHPD is moving in a positive direction.

Posted by: Hype | November 23, 2009 1:40 PM

18 months is not nearly enough time for a true evaluation. I would be completely opposed to providing some sort of housing allowance/incentive, or any other incentive to keep this guy or lure anyone else. A $150,000 paycheck, free car, gas, and insurance, as well as the other perks/benefits are more than enough.

Posted by: juli | November 23, 2009 1:43 PM

i have to add my name to the list of residents who would LOVE for you to extend your stay here, chief. i am so pleased with the progress under your watch. thank you for your hard work in a really challenging position.

but i feel i should add that it seems like a very passive-aggressive maneuver that we haven't even begun a search for your replacement. we should be prepared, instead of just crossing our fingers hoping for you to stay.

that being said, i'm still crossing my fingers hoping for you to stay.

Posted by: William Kurtz | November 23, 2009 2:37 PM

It will be a shame to lose Chief Lewis if he decides not to stay on. He has been doing a remarkable job. I've never met Mr. Gillespie and don't know anything him, but if he's a member of Chief Lewis' team I imagine he's worth a look for the job.

Posted by: K | November 23, 2009 2:46 PM

Please don't leave us now! We're just starting to make progress, right? Just stay a while longer to see the fruits of your labor, and keep things on the current track. We can't afford a slide backwards now. If you must go, thank you for your service, and implementing the traffic stops and quality-of-life arrests in order to scratch the surface to get to the crime and criminals just below. The NHPD has to be sure your replacement is also hard-as-nails when it comes to drugs and violence. NH needs continued, dedicated enforcement, or we slip back into the Wild West.

Posted by: Stan | November 23, 2009 2:57 PM

Yes, please stick around to finish the good job you strated. You've done an awesome job thus far.

Posted by: Maggie May | November 23, 2009 4:05 PM

We have grown to love you and you have become part of this community whether you like it or not. Please stay Cheif, we need you.

Posted by: nfjanette [TypeKey Profile Page] | November 23, 2009 4:26 PM

A $150,000 paycheck, free car, gas, and insurance, as well as the other perks/benefits are more than enough.

Based upon what criteria? From what I've seen, Cheif Lewis has performed very well in this position - which means, he has guided and enabled the entire department to perform very well. I believe in performance bonuses and would have no issue with the city responding to any issues with housing by offering increased compensation in the form of a bonus or housing stipend.

Posted by: Jim | November 23, 2009 4:26 PM

and here is another request for you to stay Chief. I truly hope you will consider it.

Posted by: anon | November 23, 2009 6:57 PM

Traffic enforcement stops have tripled over the past couple of years, and need to triple again. This not only improves the quality of life, it helps prevent other major crimes.

Hope Chief Lewis can keep up the great work on making New Haven a more livable place.

Posted by: webblog1 | November 23, 2009 7:33 PM

Chief Lewis, I think you should consider staying in order to see the start of your initiatives take a firm hold.

If you can stomach the mayor, it worth a new sign-up.
Your next great initiative might be to instill controlled safe driving habits into your patrol officers, they are wrecking the fleet and the budget.

Please stay....

Posted by: annon | November 23, 2009 8:22 PM

To echo the statements of many of the residents: please stay. Your departure would interrupt the smooth sailing within the department. Groom your command staff for one more year. You are a good influence.

Posted by: Hype | November 23, 2009 9:27 PM


Based on what?

1. Based on current salaries of existing chiefs in towns the size of New Haven
2. Based on the state of the economy
3. Based on practices in other cities
4. Based on the fact that I'm sick and tired of all you folks so willingly giving away MY money

No one, I mean no one, is worth more than what he is currently receiving from the taxpayers of New Haven.

Posted by: David Cameron | November 23, 2009 10:32 PM

I want to add my voice to all those who are urging Chief Lewis to stay. He stepped into an exceptionally difficult position last year, coming into a department that had been hit with a major scandal and badly in need of a top-to-bottom overhaul in every aspect of its work. In the space of less than 18 months, the department has been turned around and its performance improved in every aspect - updating policies, patrol, traffic control, record-keeping, investigations, narcotics, gun seizures.

No one familiar with the lengthy and highly critical PERF report would have thought it possible that most of the more than 50 recommendations would have been implemented by now. Yet that is the case. Chief Lewis and his leadership team have worked very hard, day in and day out, to improve the quality of policing in New Haven and all of us who live in New Haven owe him an enormous debt of gratitude. I hope he will stay on, if not for a full four-year term, at least for another year or two.

Posted by: fedupwithliberals | November 24, 2009 5:17 AM

Couldn't help but think of the movie "Pale Rider" after reading this story and comments!

Posted by: City Hall Watch | November 24, 2009 7:31 AM

In doing a good job, he also pulled the mayor's fat out of the fire. That the department was in such sorry shape after managing it all those years could have been his waterloo. Ironically, Lewis was able to turn a department around precisely because DeStefano got out of the way. Let's not forget. Having said that, look for the mayor to sweeten the pot.

Posted by: William Kurtz | November 24, 2009 7:50 AM


Or Shane. Good one; I hadn't thought of it that way.

Posted by: STYLENE | November 24, 2009 8:29 AM


Posted by: Beaver Hill Resident | November 24, 2009 12:38 PM

I guess you just can't leave, Chief Lewis. We've spoken.

Posted by: Ellis Copeland | November 24, 2009 2:14 PM

... This current "progress" is just the lull in the storm. Eventually they will be up to all their old tricks in full force.

Posted by: Yeah for Chief Lewis | November 24, 2009 2:31 PM

Stay! Stay!

Posted by: nfjanette [TypeKey Profile Page] | November 24, 2009 3:06 PM

Based on what?
1. Based on current salaries of existing chiefs in towns the size of New Haven
2. Based on the state of the economy
3. Based on practices in other cities

I understand those criteria even if I don't have the data available to specifically comment upon them. However, it is also understood that some times are exceptional times with abnormal dynamics, and I would argue the state of the city policing and crime at this time would qualify for that exception - but only for a limited amount of time.

4. Based on the fact that I'm sick and tired of all you folks so willingly giving away MY money

I hear you and second that emotion, but I still understand that spending wisely on law enforcement is one reasonable area to judiciously open the purse to support when required.

No one, I mean no one, is worth more than what he is currently receiving from the taxpayers of New Haven.

I probably agree in general, especially if discussing the education system in this city.

Posted by: anon | November 24, 2009 7:15 PM

I agree with Webblog - the cops themselves need to stop speeding. Saw a patrol car with two officers doing 45-50 on Chapel Street downtown last night, no sirens on.

Posted by: The Truth | November 24, 2009 8:35 PM

This guy just got a stealth 3% pay hike. Remember? The one that wasn't approved by the Board of Aldermen. How many citizens taken a pay cut or lost there jobs? At $150k he's already pulling down enough.

Posted by: Ben Berkowitz | November 25, 2009 2:38 PM

Chief Lewis,

Stay with us as long as you can!

Posted by: Nan Bartow | November 25, 2009 11:16 PM

Chief Lewis, we appreciate all you have done to make New Haven safer. Please stay. We need you.

Posted by: streever | November 26, 2009 7:18 AM

I really like Gilespie: I met him at the cafeteria with you that day at court--he'd come up to testify too for us--he was friendly and knowledgeable and seemed like a great guy.

With that said, Chief Lewis, New Haven just loves you too much man. Don't go yet. I know we seem like a bunch of crazy anarchists but we mean well.

Maybe we can find you a house in East Rock? Give you another year or two then have Ken step up and fill some VERY big shoes.

You've been really great to work with on issues. Thank you for being part of my community.

Posted by: OzoneRoad [TypeKey Profile Page] | November 29, 2009 11:12 PM

the city has really turned itself around under Lewis. We need a tough cop who can motivate his charges, step up patrols, target the bad guys with stings, and give strength to the traffic patrol officers.

now all we need is some downtown presence at Broadway; perhaps with the Mounted Police? Also, the city parks could use some police presence with the Mounted Police patrols. Get creative, keep Lewis!

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