Esserman Schools Foley

Tom Foley Wednesday afternoon dropped in on the city that prevented him from winning his last election and invited his opponent’s favorite police chief to offer advice on tackling urban crime—advice that sounded at times quite different from the themes Foley sounded on the campaign trail.

The occasion was the latest public event hosted by a “nonpartisan think tank” Republican Foley set up since losing the 2010 gubernatorial election to Democrat Dannel P. Malloy. The think tank—Connecticut Policy Institute—hosted a forum on “Strategies for Urban Crime Prevention in Connecticut” at the new downtown campus of Gateway Community College. The keynote speaker was New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman, whom Malloy hired to run Stamford’s police department when Malloy ran that city, and whom Malloy more recently as governor enlisted to help devise a statewide urban anti-gang-violence initiative.

Foley has started running against Malloy again, for the 2014 gubernatorial election. The think tank he set up is widely seen as a forum to advance his candidacy; it is hosting a series of events in cities, where Foley lost the last election to Malloy. (Especially in New Haven, which gave him his largest margin of victory.) Foley insisted Wednesday that the think tank is separate from his candidacy, a “nonpartisan” entity seeking solutions to state problems.

“I don’t have my political hat on today,” Foley said before the event began.

Wednesday’s lunch event drew 35 people into Gateway’s first-floor Community Room; Malloy appeared in the same room last August when hundreds crammed inside to celebrate his administration’s support for building the new downtown campus.

Esserman spoke for an hour Wednesday about how community policing has gradually brought a new approach to urban crime-fighting since the mid-20th century. It is moving from a warlike to a communal relationship-building approach, he said.

“We had a president who said, ‘Let’s have a war on crime.’ Easy words. Dangerous idea. The American police became militarized,” Esserman said. “We told them to go to war against their own citizens. ... We got faster cars and faster radios and bigger guns. ... We became strangers in the community. ... People didn’t know who we were.”

Community policing, based in part on the “broken windows” theory that small problems turn into bigger problems if left unattended, developed in cities like New Haven in the 1990s. It cut crime dramatically and changed the way police operated: It emphasized neighborhood walking-beat cops who got to know people, solving problems before they become worse rather than trying to arrest as many people as possible for small infractions, working intensively with other law-enforcement agencies and especially with neighbors, social workers, and community leaders. Esserman helped launch New Haven’s experiment as an assistant chief in the early 1990s. He left to run the Stamford and Providence departments. He returned to New Haven in 2011 after violence shot back up amid a decline in community policing. He has aggressively reinstituted a community policing program, from renewed walking beats to partnerships with other agencies to a new federally backed anti-gang initiative called Project Longevity, which the Malloy administration is spreading to other Connecticut cities. Seventy to 80 people from all over New Haven’s civic landscape now cram the weekly CompStat crime data-sharing and problem-solving meeting at police headquarters.

Esserman told the audience Wednesday afternoon how violent crime has dropped dramatically in New Haven since community policing returned. And police are solving more crimes. He told the story of 32 Lilac St.  That’s the lot in Newhallville where Yale architecture students were building a new home as part of an annual project. Yale halted the project after a kid mugged and harmed an 83-year-old architecture professor there. A neighbor called a cop she knew from the neighborhood, Robert Hayden, while he was on vacation in Hawaii. She told him the attacker’s nickname. Hayden knew the kid and the family. He called the mother and arranged for the kid to be brought in for arrest.

That incident showed the trust and results that can develop through community policing, Esserman said.

He also spoke of how the police department hired college students to run a much-expanded summer camp in New Haven this year. That’s community policing, too, he said.

After his talk, Esserman took questions from the audience. Fair Haven Heights property manager Sandy Martin (pictured) spoke of how much conditions have improved in her area since familiar walking-beat cops arrived and since top neighborhood cop Sgt. Vincent Anastasio got to know everyone well. He gave her and many others his cell phone number. She calls that number, not 911, when she needs help, and the help comes fast, she said.

Foley asked Esserman for advice for improving the judicial process. Esserman spoke of the need for “swift, certain” ... and “short”—sentencing for crimes. The courts provide none of that now, he said. Cases linger too long in the system. And criminals stay locked up way too long—and all too often come out of jail hardened and ready to commit more crimes.

He was also asked about gun control. He said stricter gun laws would help cut crime, in his opinion. “I’ve got three kids,” he said. “They’ve got to go through hell to get a driver’s license. Why shouldn’t they go through hell to get a gun” and enable the police to have more needed information about gun-buyers in the process?

Asked after the event about Esserman’s talk, Foley called the chief “obviously an exceptional man providing exceptional leadership.” “He makes a lot of sense to me,” Foley said.

What about his critique of excessive tough-on-crime-style jail sentences? Foley, who ran partly on supporting the death penalty in 2010, replied that “if the long sentences aren’t working, I agree with him. They’re not being effective.” Asked about Esserman’s support of stricter rules for buying guns, Foley replied: “I think that’s where the country’s going.”

The pair exchanged a handshake and smalltalk before Esserman left Gateway to return to the beat. He invited Foley to a CompStat meeting. Foley said he’ll take him up on the offer.

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posted by: Ex-NHPD on July 10, 2013  5:24pm

NHI’s 2,000 character limit on posts makes it impossible to fully respond to this article.

Esserman said War on Crime Policing=faster cars, faster radios, and bigger guns.  Forget faster cars; BETTER radios-yes, bigger guns-he authorized Patrol Rifles.

Project Longevity is a new version of TimezUp.

CompStat uses the same statistic program and mapping as TASCA.  CompStat meets more often(every week), with a peanut gallery of non-Law Enforcement that should not be privy to detailed discussions of L.E. sensitive issues. 

In 2009, without Esserman and “Community Based Policing”, there were 13 homicides in New Haven.  17 last year.  A pace of 20 for 2013. You can make stats do anything; with 2 homicides in a 10 hour period, that means on that track, there will be 370 by the end of the year.

Hayden did a great job. He has done so before. Esserman implies that neither Hayden, nor any officer in the NHPD, recent or past, has been able to do that, without “CBP”.

Anastasio is another fine cop and District Manager.  Yet, D.M.‘s have been giving out their cell phone numbers to people for years.  Even during the years when the D.M. model remained, despite the NHPD not embracing “CBP”.

Prison sentences must be shorter?  Which ones?  How long does it take to be hardened in prison to want to commit more crimes? 

Stricter gun laws. In the past (insert # of your choice)years, how many people who commited an assault or a murder with a handgun in New Haven had a pistol permit or would have qualified for one? 

The concept of CBP is good.  It is not a magic bullet that will prevent all crime.  There are too many factors that Police can’t control. In Essermans’s 8.5 years in Providence, Assaults were higher in 4 out of his 8 years than before he got there.  2009 Homicide rate there was double what 2006&2007; were; all Esserman “CBP” years.

CBP will be hurt by lack of cops and low numbers of supervisors.  Inability to properly first line supervise leads to big problems ahead.

posted by: alex on July 10, 2013  5:34pm

Great article—and Chief Esserman was even better. New Haven is lucky to have him.

One part of the Chief’s talk that you missed was his discussion of why community policing is so hard to sustain. That was the part that I wished the mayoral candidates were there to hear (former candidate Matt Nemerson was in the audience).

City Halls (and police chiefs), Esserman said, have to relinquish control in order for community policing to flourish. That means not having a new police chief every year, or perhaps with every new mayoral administration. That also means sticking with the method of community policing even if it doesn’t cause violent crime to “drop dramatically” as it apparently has so far in New Haven.

As the chief said, more than half of crimes are unreported—something that’s probably always been true but has been worse with the militarization of the police. Good community policing tries to reverse that trend. But if more crimes that previously weren’t reported start coming to the attention of the police because of better community relationships the statistics may not reflect all the good work the police do.

Making community policing work requires less of an obsession over The Crime Rate and more a commitment to relinquishing and decentralizing power—and insulating the professional work of police officers from partisan politics.

posted by: alex on July 10, 2013  5:38pm

Ex-NHPD, you make some excellent points. One thing to note:

“CBP will be hurt by lack of cops and low numbers of supervisors.”

It’s not in this article, but Esserman talked about this too. He talked about how important it is that New Haven continue to hire more police officers if CBP is going to be successful.

posted by: Ex-NHPD on July 10, 2013  7:18pm

Esserman talks about hiring more cops, but the issue of lack of cops/supervisors is immediate. The impact on the present and the future of the NHPD needs more than talk.

The rash of retirements, at all levels of the NHPD, has made a shaky organization.  It has also left a gigantic void of experience & insitutional knowledge across the NHPD.

The Command Chain is in total disarray.  Prior to latest retirements, a Captain was reporting TO a Lieutenant.

ZERO Captains left. 8 Lieutenants; NHPD is budgeted for 20. Not a full compliment of Sergeants. Detective positions are vacant because not enough candidates took the exam to fill the spots.  This didn’t happen overnight.

There is no dedicated White Shirt (Lieutenant/Captain) as a Shift Commander on days/evenings/midnights.  The Shift Commander postion is filled by Sergeants, or a revolving door of Lieutenants, on Overtime.  This leads to a lack of a consistent message to the cops on each shift.

The number of Sergeants, especially on the Evening Shift, is woefully inadequate. Often, one is the Shift Supervisor.  With best practices, they should only be supervising 6-8 officers.  Factor in all the newbies walking the beats, who should be getting EXTRA supervision; not happening. When new cops get little AND inconsistent supervision, their growth as a cop is stunted.

You can add to this matrix the FTO (Field Training Officer) Program has been ravaged by losing FTO’s to both Promotion and Retirement. Officers with too little knowledge and experience are becoming FTO’s.

A Chief of Esserman’s stature HAD to have been able to see what had begun prior to his arrival, and continued to spiral as he took over. He ignored it. He accelerated the retirement of many key supervisors by his poor management style.  And, promotions should have started from top positions and moved down.

This is the real story of manpower at NHPD. It didn’t have to get so bad so fast.  It is now a hole too deep to get out of anytime soon.

posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on July 10, 2013  10:14pm

God he just loves the camera, and always finds an audience that knows far less than him, that are gullible enough to believe he actually knows what he is talking about. And Foley is hitching his wagon to Esserman, the great crime fighter. What a hoot! It makes the phrase “the blind leading the blind” seem so appropriate, but the truth is every day at the NHPD for some time is like Alice in Wonderland. And almost every day there, at some point, there is a loss of reality, through these unbelievable performances by the Chief. It is amazing the response he gets from those that have disconnected themselves, socially, economically, and psychologically, from the masses, who they have little or no empathy for, but will try to portray someone who cares to avoid actually knowing what they are doing, and being held responsible for their shabby performance.

posted by: Burbel on July 10, 2013  10:36pm

Foley gives himself away by evading direct answers to direct questions. Not about being a candidate - although he does that - but on the substance of direct questions about whether or not he agrees with something, or how he specifically feels about something.

The Foley campaign strategy is exposed and is nothing new - associate the candidate with the policies that will help him get elected, while avoiding acknowledging the fact that those policies are already being implemented by the incumbent. Then late in the campaign, lie to people just tuning in, claiming that the incumbent is opposed to those policies.

A well executed interview of a skilled and experienced operator playing a “long game.”

posted by: Curious on July 11, 2013  9:49am

So how does this get fixed?  Will cops from outside come in to take the higher-ranking positions, or will there have to be a trickle-up as officers now on the force get promoted over time?

posted by: Curious on July 11, 2013  11:09am

Also, didn’t Esserman just create and enact the policy for assault rifles that had already been purchased by his predecessor?