In about four weeks 11 New Haven police sergeants will pin on the rank of lieutenant. And at least eight of those new lieutenants will become new neighborhood top cops.
That may come to the relief of neighborhoods currently without their own district managers — or as a disappointment to those with top cops whom they’ve come to appreciate but who no longer have to rank to stay in the position.
Police Chief Anthony Campbell said that those 11 lieutenants will be promoted during a ceremony on July 13 or 14 along with 12, or possibly 15 sergeants, five detectives, and one assistant chief. Thirty-one sergeants passed the most recent lieutenants’ exam.
Those promotions will create significant changes in the city’s 10 neighborhood police districts. And they present Campbell, who was sworn into his job this month, with one of his first set of major decisions that will signal his approach to managing the department and policing the city.
Currently, the policing district manager positions are dominated by police sergeants. Lt. Jason Minardi, who is the Hill South district manager but has been also covering Hill North too, is the lone remaining lieutenant among managers. Former Hill North District Manager Lt. Brendan Hosey is now overseeing the department’s detention center.
But under department practice, district managers are supposed to be lieutenants, not sergeants, for a variety of reasons (including supervisory experience as well as the need to limit overtime in filling other sergeant duties in the department). Sergeants have been filling those district manager positions for years now — and in some cases earning reputations for making positive changes in neighborhoods from Newhallville to Downtown to Fair Haven Heights — because of a shortage of lieutenants, a problem the upcoming promotions will solve.
At least two of the current sergeant district managers, Sgt. Renee Dominguez and Sgt. Stephan Torquatti, are among the top scorers on the most recent lieutenants’ exam and are likely to be promoted. They also are likely to keep their positions as district managers, though Campbell hinted Thursday that he might shake things up by moving them to different districts so they can experience new challenges.
Campbell is currently in the process of discussing such changes with his assistant chiefs as they sort out the skill sets of those who will be promoted to lieutenant and where they might fit best.
But some other neighborhood top cops who are sergeants — downtown’s Sean Maher, East Shore’s Roy Davis, Newhallville’s Shafiq Abdussabur, Beaver Hills’ John Wolcheski— passed the recent promotional exam for lieutenant but did not score high enough to be promoted in this first wave.
“I would have loved it if all of the sergeants had been eligible to take the lieutenants’ exam and I would have loved it if the ones who were eligible would have scored high enough” to be promoted, said Campbell, who himself will be formally and publicaly sworn in as chief Tuesday. “I wouldn’t have to make any changes at all, but the reality is I want all district managers to be lieutenants.”
Campbell said he plans to replace all of the remaining sergeants with new lieutenants promoted from the list partly because it’s time to return the department to its proper paramilitary structure and put those positions back in the hands of a rank that is responsible for supervising teams of officers out on the street.
And that’s important for at least two reasons, he said: chain of command and fiscal responsibility.
“The district managers, all of them are doing a phenomenal job, but the reality is that I want them to all be lieutenants,” he said. “It’s difficult to have a sergeant who is a district manager oversee other sergeants.
“When they tell another sergeant to do something, technically according to rank, that’s a suggestion,” he added. “When a lieutenant tells a sergeant to do something, that’s an order.”
Campbell said having lieutenants instead of sergeants fill the district manager positions also saves the city money on overtime. Sergeants in the department were tapped over the years to fill the district manager positions because of the dearth of lieutenants. Some sergeants have even been pulling double duty—managing two districts—while waiting for promotion day and new assignments.
The question of when the police department would start naming new district managers came up in Westville/ West Hills during the most recent neighborhood management team meeting. Westville/West Hills currently shares a district manager, Sgt. Wolcheski, with the Whalley Avenue/Edgewood/Beaver Hills district. Wolcheski is among the sergeants who will be reassigned when the new lieutenants take over the district manager positions. That means that both WEB and Westville/West Hills will each get new managers.
Neighbors voted at the past Wednesday night meeting not to meet again until the fall, when they hope to have a new full-time district manager who can provide crime updates. Wolcheski has been out because of an injury, and other officers have had to come in his place. The management team also stated that it wants the police department to update neighbors on a strategy for taming the dirt bike population that has grown up around Edgewood Park.
New Challenges For Sgts.
Campbell said this isn’t the end of the road for the sergeants who will become former district managers. Some of them might have enough time on the job to retire and may choose to exercise that option. However, Campbell said he believes that over the next two years, there is a chance that the department could exhaust the lieutenants’ list, which can be extended, as people in upper ranks retire or are promoted, and those sergeants can move up the list and become lieutenants with new neighborhood assignments.
The new chief said he would like to have a captain’s exam in February 2018 and another for detectives; two captains in the department are eligible to retire, as are two assistant chiefs, leaving room for future promotions. That means that some lieutenants who passed the recent promotional could move up. Also, the department plans to create two new policing districts by breaking up the Morris Cove/Fair Haven Heights/Bishop Woods and Newhallville/East Rock/Cedar Hill districts. When that happens, Campbell will need two more lieutenants to manage those districts. He said he is looking to make the split next summer depending on retirements.
Skipping Down The List?
In a plot twist, Campbell suggested that he is open to divert from common practice and not necessarily choose lieutenants for promotion based on the order of how high they scored on the recent test. In other words, chiefs usually pick, say, the 11 top scorers for 11 openings.
Campbell reserved the right to skip over some top finishers for others who scored not quite as high but who might have the right skills to serve as district manager. Technically, it will be up to the Board of Police Commissioners to decide who gets promoted, but it has been tradition to make those promotions based on a recommendation from the police chief.
“I don’t like to skip people, but I will skip someone if I feel they need more seasoning or development,” he said. “One of the things that I think this department has done, which is a detriment to the department and to individuals, is we put people in position but we don’t prepare them to succeed.
“But I believe that it’s my duty to start going down the list, seeing who may need some additional training, getting them trained up so the next time we do promotions, we can promote them,” he said.
The police and fire departments have faced lawsuits in the past over how they promote people. Adherents of strictly promoting based on rank order test results argue that that guards against bias and that the tests offer the fairest and most accurate assessments. Opponents argue that strict adherence to test results ties the chief’s hands in picking the right people for jobs, and that small differences in numerical scores do not necessarily reflect who’s best for a job.
Police union President Craig Miller said he plans to discuss the matter with the chief.
“I’m in shock,” he said Monday. “I don’t understand why anybody would change the way they’ve done the process [and] go straight down the list with every promotion.”
Miller added that the union contract allows sergeants to serve as district managers, and that the department has had sergeants serving in the role for decades.
Campbell said he will be making the changes in consultation with management teams. Assistant Chief Otoniel Reyes will be making the rounds to meet with neighbors and alders to talk about the changes coming. Campbell said once the promotions happen in July, people will have two weeks of training, and districts could start seeing changes in August.