Dude, Where’s My District Manager?

Paul Bass PhotoIn 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.

Markeshia Ricks PhotoThe 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.

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posted by: SLP on June 19, 2017  8:13am

Publicly, not publically

posted by: 1644 on June 19, 2017  9:15am

I am stunned to read that sergeants who are district managers do not have authority over other sergeants in their districts.  NHPD needs to revise its polices to embrace the concept of “positional authority”.  In the Navy, positional authority means that holders of certain positions have authority over others below them in the chain of command, regardless of rank.  Hence, the captain of a ship has responsibility of his ship, so he has authority over all embarked regardless of whether they are senior to him.  The only exception would be an officer senior to him in has chain-of-command., e.g., the commodore of his squadron, or the commander of his fleet.

posted by: Nadine H on June 19, 2017  11:40am

So very disappointed to learn that our WONDERFUL district manager, Sgt. John Wolcheski will be moving on because while he did take the lieutenant’s exam and pass, he did not score high enough as mentioned in the article to get promoted at this time. Because of a score on a test, this officer who has set the bar for how community policing should be done, and has had such a positive effect on crime in the Whalley/Edgewood/Beaver Hills neighborhood is going to be moved.

I honestly don’t understand how, if the department is serious about community policing, officers like Sgt. Wolcheski, Sgt. Abdussabar in Newhallville, and Sgt. Hoyt in Dixwell, are being moved! These officers have taken the time to build relationships with residents and businesses in the community, attend neighborhood events on their own time to show they care, and genuinely have the best interests of the neighborhood at heart, and they are being moved because of a test score, and in some cases are not even eligible to take the test. How is that fair? How is that in the best interest of the community?

Being a district manager is not easy, and it takes time and skill to come into a neighborhood and develop relationships, take the time to get to know the neighborhood and become a part of it. While I applaud the officers who have taken the exam and congratulate them, a test alone does not indicate fitness for a position like district manager.

As chair of the WEB management team, I know that my team worked hard to advocate for Sgt. Wolcheski to stay as our manager by writing letters to the chief and assistant chief of patrol, as well as a letter of support from all our alders, and it’s a shame that our voices as residents and leaders in this neighborhood will not be listened to. We look forward to meeting with the chief(s) and having a say in who comes in next to our neighborhood as they will have some very big shoes to fill!

posted by: FacChec on June 19, 2017  11:53am

Speaking of “neighborhoods currently without their own district managers” there is no mention of the Whalley ave.  district manager, or, equally as important, the opening of the Whalley Ave sub station remolded by owner Minore’s Market who is next door, and who is collection rent from the city for the past two years, yet the substation is not fully opened.

The chiefs announcement is just musical chairs, the rotation of bodies. To effect real change there needs to be decentralization with each district receiving manpower and financial backing commiserate with the population and crime statistics. Currently, the distribution appears to be equal coverage for each district contrary to the Com State reports.

The chief also has to implement a plan with incentives, to retain current officers who are deciding to retire, or not. It’s called the retention of experienced work force strategy. Currently, the PD is content with loosing new recruits to surrounding towns, rather than retention of the experienced officers

posted by: edgewooder on June 19, 2017  1:02pm

I’m with Nadine H on this! Sgt Wolcheski has been fantastic. Communicative and responsive. Friendly and funny. A team player who has gone out of his way to make connections in the area. On a personal level, he will be missed. On a professional policing level, we can only hope he won’t run from New Haven’s PD on account of this situation. On a community and city level, this kind of switch up has huge costs, however hard to calculate they may be. Relational trust is the bedrock for community policing; it’s wasteful and wrong to squander the “social capital” it represents. In fact, in a cash-strapped city, social capital is the most precious resource available - the one to cultivate, cherish, protect, and build from.  Moving Sgt Wolcheski away from D10 will set us back on multiple levels. I’m sad and concerned about that, and I know I’m one of many.

posted by: Peter99 on June 19, 2017  3:40pm

What the chief is talking about, is referred to as the rule of three. He can look at number 1, 2, and 3 on the test results, pick number 3 and then revisit the list with the same number 1 and 2, but the old number 4 would now be the new number 3.  He could pick the new number 3 and continue to skip 1 and 2. In the “old days” this method was not used to pick the best qualified candidate, but the best connected candidate. It was also used to skip people of color. I would hate to see the police department return to this method of selection. The fire department goes strictly by test scores. The police department should also. Civil service rules allow use of the “rule of three” but that does not make it right.

posted by: 1644 on June 19, 2017  4:43pm

http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/31_lieutenants_exam/
As per the link above, the district managers who do not make the cut missed it by a large margin.  Maher was the highest scoring manager who was not advanced.  Were he to be advanced, it would mean SIX officers with better scores than he had would not be advanced, while he was.  Wolcheski has 12 people between him and the cut-off score.  Abdussabar barely passed the exam.  I would agree that advancement purely on test scores would fail to promote the best.  Performance on the job, as well as on an exam should count.  It doesn’t appear, however, the department has a regularize way to evaluate and competitively rank its officers’ on-the-job performance.  I, also note, that the test produces a pretty good ethnic and gender mix.  On the other hand, three of the four managers who failed the cut are white males (the lowest is a black male).  Making room for them would likely mean displacing and jumping over higher scoring women and “minority” candidates.

posted by: new haven can do better on June 19, 2017  11:18pm

Sgt Jason M. Rentkowicz is #11 on the list of Sgts to be promoted to Lieutenant. Sgt Rentkowiicz along with Officer Daniel Conklin and the NHPD are being sued for wrongly arresting a city resident. You can read about that at the link below. The City and then Interim Chief Campbell recognized Daniel Conklin’s behavior by promoting him to Detective Conklin had a number of very negative internal affairs reports at the time he was promoted by then Interim Chief Campbell. Apparently there is a video tape of the incident for which Conklin and Rentkowicz are being sued. If there is a tape and the charges in the complaint are true, it will certainly show poor judgment on the part of Chief Campbell and the NHPD. Let’s see if Chief Campbell and the City double down on their actions and choose to promote Rentkowicz from Sargent to Lieutenant.

http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/cops_to_promote_alleged_camera-grabber/