N-Word Caller Sparks Probe, Soul-Searching

Thomas MacMillan PhotoA one-word late-night utterance on a police radio has brought FBI investigators to 1 Union Ave.—and touched off department-wide soul-searching.

The word is “nigger.” Someone got onto the police radio after midnight on Dec. 30 and slowly uttered it. Some officers didn’t hear it. Others did, and called their supervisor to report it.

Within hours Police Chief Dean Esserman ordered an internal affairs investigation, one that has spread to include FBI forensic testing and visits to other police departments with access to New Haven’s frequency.

Meanwhile, the incident led more than 40 black officers to meet on Sunday at a community room on Ashmun Street to discuss a response. (They’d originally planned to meet on Saturday, then decided to wait a day when Channel 3’s news team caught wind of it.) They decided to hold a press conference Thursday to call for stronger measures against internal racial concerns. Then, after meeting with Esserman and in City Hall with Mayor Toni Harp, leaders of local black police organizations—the Silver Shields, the Guardians, and the National Black Law Enforcement Officers—agreed to delay public comments while the city responds to their concerns.

Esserman addressed line-up for all shifts over a 24-hour period this week to discuss the investigation into the radio incident and other measures to address racial and cultural concerns. He held a lively session with department supervisors Thursday afternoon after the regular weekly CompStat data-sharing meeting. And he has expanded department-wide cultural awareness and diversity training for all officers and detectives. The classes are scheduled to begin this coming Monday. Yet another meeting followed, among top cops about next steps.

“Give me a week. Let’s see what we can do,” Harp (pictured at the opening Wednesday of a downtown police substation)said she told the black police officers in her meeting. “If you don’t feel we are addressing it, you should put pressure on us to make sure we do.”

Harp said in an interview in her office Thursday afternoon that she discussed the black officers’ concerns about some “mid-level managers” in the police department as well as a handful of incidents that have occurred over the past few years. She said she believes that “by and large everybody works well together” in the police department. “Are there outliers? Yes. It has to be addressed. Is it the norm? I believe it is not. The chief has taken action. I am excited about the sensitivity training,” which will include experts from Connecticut Mental Health Center.

One participant described leaving the City Hall meeting “very impressed” with the mayor. “She was very attentive. She was very, very open to listen.”

The department had already, before the most recent incident, scheduled in-service training on cultural awareness and diversity to begin next week. In the wake of the latest incident, those classes will be doubled in length, from two to four hours, and will specifically include discussion of the case, according to Esserman.

“This is an issue that everyone in America must face,” Esserman said. “It is an issue that everyone in America must address, including the New Haven police department. The big mistake we can make is to ignore it or to send the message that for one minute it is acceptable. If our rank and file are going to believe in the values of the New Haven police department, we have to demonstrate that.

“We will investigate it vigorously. We will talk about it. Every supervisor in this department will speak with one voice.” The radio incident, Esserman said, “rubbed a very deep wound.”

Officer James Baker, president of the Guardians, declined to discuss the issue for now beyond remarking: “I’m hoping everybody’s going to do what they need to do to make sure the department is running the way it should be, fairly.”

The Late-Night Call

Whoever made the after-midnight remark Dec. 30 on the police radio spoke in a low voice, drawing out the “n word,” then said nothing else.

The officers who heard it immediately notified their supervisor, who in turn reported it to the shift commander, according to Chief Esserman. He learned about it that morning, and ordered the opening of the internal probe.

All radio communication is recorded. Investigators went to the emergency communications suite on the fourth floor of police headquarters to review the tape. “Technical problems” prevented the staff from “identifying the locator tracking” on the call, according to Esserman. Usually when a call comes over the radio, a message comes on a screen at the emergency communications center with information on the location of the caller.

“We brought in the company” that provides the equipment, Esserman said. The company, too, couldn’t identify the source of the call, “so we brought in the FBI.” The FBI discovered that the location code had never come up on the screen. That could “mean anything,” Esserman said—perhaps that the call came from outside the department, or perhaps that a department radio had not been properly coded.

“So we hit a blind wall. We didn’t stop,” Esserman said. “We started interviewing everyone in communications. We started interviewing officers. We discovered that officers and communications personnel were also on cell phones. We retrieved the cell phone messages between communications personnel with their voluntary assistance. We were trying to track it every way possible. We could not make an identification. So we’re continuing to do interviewing”—including at departments in towns outside New Haven.

The Aftermath

Black officers said the incident tapped into frustration about how some white supervisors in the department have treated some of them. Black officers also brought up a few incidents that occurred over the past year. One involved a swastika found on a vehicle in the police department’s basement garage (which is not accessible by outsiders). Another involved a white officer’s Facebook posting, which included anti-black, anti-Latino, and anti-Jewish slurs and demeaning epithets about black and Jewish members of the department. That incident occurred before Esserman took over the department two years ago, but it came to his attention again when the officer in question was up for a promotion. Instead of promoting him at the time, Esserman said, he ordered the officer to get help for personal problems he was experiencing.

In 2012, Esserman suspended a white officer—and called in the FBI, which launched a civil rights investigation—after a citizen’s cell-phone footage captured the officer appearing to stomp on the neck of a handcuffed black suspect. (Read about that here.)

After the leaders of the black organizations raised their concerns this week, Esserman said he decided to start a discussion with his line-up addresses. It continued at the post-CompStat session with supervisors Thursday. Everyone was asked to speak about reactions to the radio incident. Then the group discussed the upcoming training, in which all officers will participate in four hours of training by Lt. Patricia Helliger, who is certified in cultural awareness and diversity training. (Training academy chief Lt. Max Joyner and internal affairs chief Lt. Anthony Campbell will also run the sessions.) Esserman had planned to play the offensive call during the training; about half the people in the room argued that that would offend participants. In the end, it was decided not to play the recording during the sessions, but to give officers the opportunity to listen to it during the break.

After the meeting, numerous supervisors called it a “productive,” “constructive,” open exchange.

Police union President Louis Cavaliere Jr. said Thursday evening that the chief has handled the controversy appropriately.

“Obviously we have no room for any type of this behavior in this department. I’m all for if they want to step up sensitivity training in this department. I don’t believe there’s an issue. But it’s been brought to our attention that a few remarks have been made,” Cavaliere said. “People feel they have been offended and insulted and hurt. It’s a word that shouldn’t be tolerated in our department.”

He said the Facebook incident reinforced a lesson he tries to impart to fellow officers: “On a monthly basis, I try to remind guys about social media and being careful about what you say. Maybe you’re in a bad mood one day and you have a few drinks in you. Be very, very careful about how you respond about something that might catch up with you.

“I don’t even care for Facebook. If I do go on there, it’s very clean. There are a lot of kids on there. All over country I see people walked out of their jobs because of what they said on Facebook or Twitter.”

State NAACP President Scot X. Esdaile said he has been aware of the controversy and expects to meet soon with black officers to learn more.


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posted by: RACISMISALIVEANDWELL on January 31, 2014  10:07am

Wow, as I said it before, my name speaks for itself!

posted by: elmcityresident on January 31, 2014  10:12am

ARE YOU REALLY SURPRISED…our community has always complained about the profiling and mistreatment towards our young black youths!! ARE YOU REALLY SURPRISED with your undercover racist cops

posted by: robn on January 31, 2014  10:29am

A civilian who knows how to hack CB radios could have done this. Of course someone smart enough to do that probably wouldn’t be living in 1952 but then again, who knows?

posted by: HewNaven on January 31, 2014  11:13am

Is anyone else intrigued by the dichotomous usage of the “n-word”??

In our own community, you’ll hear some residents use it colloquially while most will go their entire lives and will never utter the word, and will rather use an abbreviated version, as if that lessens the blow. #words

posted by: RACISMISALIVEANDWELL on January 31, 2014  11:51am

Robn, when I read this article it touched upon three different racists incidents.  Someone using the “N” word over a police transmission, a nazi swastika found on a police vehicle and an officer who used racial epithets on social media.  Why are you attempting to minimize this disgusting and intolerable behavior.  Just remember, racism is akin to bullying, which you and I know is very dangerous in America.  Not to mention, these are people that carry guns for a living!  This has to be rectified immediately.

posted by: RACISMISALIVEANDWELL on January 31, 2014  12:10pm

NewHaven, this terrible behavior at the NHPD is not about dichotomies and colloquialisms, but about racism.  These serious incidents are not to be minimizes.

posted by: Jones Gore on January 31, 2014  1:07pm

A few months ago in another town upstate someone got access to police radio and pretended to be the police. This could be a similar case.

Now anyone in the department with issues of race including blacks need to be dealt with.

posted by: RACISMISALIVEANDWELL on January 31, 2014  2:32pm

Jones Gore and Robn, it’s evident what’s going on at the NHPD.  A blind man can see this!  Three occurrences of racism were identified and you and Robn are making lame excuses about hacked CB radios.  GIVE ME A BREAK!

posted by: robn on January 31, 2014  3:35pm

No I’m just saying there are plausible explanations for someone other than a cop doing this, and since cops deal with chain of evidence all day long and are aware that they’re being recorded I find it strange that someone would do that.

Admittedly the swastika thing and the FB thing are disturbing though. They not only establish a pattern but also indicate that, beyond virulent racism, the intelligence level of the perp is extremely low. How did this person make it through the academy?

posted by: Dwightstreeter on January 31, 2014  3:49pm

I’d be more impressed if all this energy went into establishing a meaningful Civilian Review Board.

posted by: PH on January 31, 2014  4:19pm

One question is: how many NHPD live in East Haven? Spend enough time there and the racism will just start seeping into your veins.  Particularly if you are a cop.

More seriously, I hope these are relatively isolated incidents and not indicative of widespread problems in the Department.  Worth the time and energy spent investigating.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 31, 2014  5:04pm

This is not New for Police officers of color.This is going on around this country.I have family on the force in New york some retired,Some still working.They tell me it is the same thing in this day and time.

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posted by: Trustme on February 1, 2014  12:39am

I said it before and will said it again, let’s find out the facts and then we can make the proper judgement. I knew someone like elmcityresident would jump all over this. Could’ve been a NHPD officer? Yes. Could’ve been a hacker having fun? Yes. Could’ve been another cop from another department with the same frequency channel? Yes. Could’ve been someone from another state or town or country? Yes. Radios bleed over, and at times radios can pick up signals from other states accidentally. So many people besides law enforcement could’ve said that nasty word, radios have been lost. This will be hard to prove. Unfortunately racism exists, sad but true. Let’s find out what really happened, then we can point fingers and judge.

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on February 1, 2014  12:50am

Why is everyone presuming that the person who uttered the racial slur is white, or at least not black. The reality is that more black than white people use this term.

posted by: okaragozian1 on February 1, 2014  9:59am

The word nigger has been used in a very derogatory ways as have other words, like gay or bitch.  They have lost their original meaning.  Gay used to mean happy, joyful and bitch was a word to label a female dog.  A faggot is a bunch of sticks tied together, usually with twine.

Interestingly, though, in common everyday speech the word nigger is used frequently between people who are black but rarely ever by non-whites.  White people have moved away from using the word nigger as a catch all and now more specifically express their dislike by specifically naming what they dislike by using race-neutral words such as disrespectful, ignorant, thug or other vernacular which was previously loosely attributed to the word nigger.

With the foregoing in mind, the context of the usage of the word nigger in the communications between police officers needs to be taken into account.  Specifically, was the term used in a derogatory way or not.

posted by: HewNaven on February 1, 2014  11:30am

Just saw Lee Daniels’ ‘The Butler’ last night with a stellar performance by Forest Whitaker. One of the best lines came in reference to Whitaker’s character’s use of the “n-word”. The scene depicted takes place in the 30s. Whitaker’s character is slapped across the face by his black boss and corrected,

“You don’t use that word. That’s the white man’s word. Its filled with hate.”

Such a powerful line. Too many black Americans still use the “white man’s word filled with hate”. I think if the majority of blacks (i.e. those who do not use racial slurs) took a stance against ANY/ALL use of the “n-word” then incidents like what happened over the police radio would be taken more seriously. But as it is, to speak of black Americans monolithically, one would have to conclude that there is no such unified opposition to use of the “n-word”. Rather, it seems there is a double standard for who can use it and in what context.

We should all stand together against the use of any racial slur, especially this one, given the history and context of its usage.

posted by: NewHaven06513 on February 1, 2014  12:35pm

What do we do if that terrible word was spoken by an officer of color with an open mic? Do we treat the officer involved the same as an officer who is not of color or equally regardless of their race? I pray it was an ignorant hacker and not one of our own. I am proud of our NHPD and the job they do.

posted by: random on February 1, 2014  12:37pm

People “feel” they have been offended, insulted and hurt. Racism within the department is simply a perception and a feeling. Let’s spend 4 hours in sensitivity training and those “feelings” will be eradicated.

posted by: Edward_H on February 1, 2014  2:04pm

I am betting it was a black officer who did this.

posted by: RACISMISALIVEANDWELL on February 1, 2014  3:12pm

NewHavenTaxToHigh, who are you to presume that this racist term is uttered more by Blacks than Whites?  Have you met every Black person in America?  I don’t think so!  Many Blacks hate the term and will not utter it, while some use it. Should it be accepted, because of the later? I will answer it for you, a resounding NO! Your comment is very ignorant and borderline racist.  For your edification, this term is a reminder of 500 years of slavery, which included rape, murder and the mistreatment of a people.  It’s also a reminder of Jim Crow, segregation and “White Privilege.”  All things that were done, while Blacks were being oppressed and denied opportunities.  Learn a little about American history before you make disparaging comments about an entire race.  I would never assume all Italians call themselves the “G” word, Jewish people the “K” word or Irish people the “M” word.  Now lets refocus this topic back to what it’s really about, RACISM at the NHPD!  Thanks.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 1, 2014  7:59pm

You got to love this.Wow.They should have did this in east Haven.

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posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on February 1, 2014  9:29pm

One illegal radio transmission by one person in the middle of the night? How many transmissions occur on this frequency, every hour, every day, seven days a week, 365 days a year for more years than anyone who commented hear can remember. One word, one transmission, and one of the most progressive departments in the United States is being labeled, scrutinized, suspect, and who exactly will be the symbol of this highly biased, and warped examination, by those who lack any understanding of what happened or how it could happen.

Every uniform officer in the NHPD is owed an apology for being played by headlines, quotes of bigots, and hate mongers, for a transmission, that should have never happened, if not for the civilians assigned to manage emergency communications, the uniform personnel who went along with this to advance their careers, and the top heavy city of New Haven management has pushed this through over the years. Every manager, who has pushed civilian emergency communications, since Nick Pastore, and every manager who went along with this as a good idea, to advance their own pay grade, and pension, is the fault, and the source of events such as this occurring.

posted by: Stylo on February 1, 2014  9:44pm

I’m not saying this should not be addressed, but bringing so much energy and attention/outrage/press to this word only gives it more power. I also think to the Louis CK sketch about white people saying “the N-word”.

posted by: HewNaven on February 2, 2014  1:50pm

If the purpose of language is to provide a common means of transmission for information, and that words should therefore have common, universal definitions and lack ambiguities in order to make language effective, then speakers should moderate the use of words with ambivalent definitions. (I would also argue that speakers should eliminate the use of slurs entirely). It is linguistically inefficient to have a ‘catch-all’ word or phrase. It does not provide sufficient meaning for effective transmission of information. It’s more effective to have a variety of words for different uses and context. The prevalent use of the “n-word” amongst low income African-Americans may just be an example of the ‘Word Gap’ between low-income children and the rest of American kids.


posted by: Another comment on February 2, 2014  2:34pm

HewNaven is correct—-elimation of all slurs.  I am always disgusted when a description of a suspect is given and the term “wife beater” is used to describe a tank style shirt/top.  Enforces a derogatory and negative position towards women (wife) and re-enforces how some police do not take domestic violence complaints seriously.

posted by: hillresident on February 2, 2014  5:54pm

if not for the civilians assigned to manage emergency communications, the uniform personnel who went along with this to advance their careers, and the top heavy city of New Haven management has pushed this through over the years. Every manager, who has pushed civilian emergency communications, since Nick Pastore, and every manager who went along with this as a good idea, to advance their own pay grade, and pension, is the fault, and the source of events such as this occurring.

I started to get riled, as I’m sure was your intention, when I read this, but I had to stop and laugh until I cried.  @JustAnother, you are a true piece of work!

Exactly HOW is communications responsible?  They DO NOT pass out portables, those are managed by the P.O.L.I.C.E. D.E.P.A.R.T.M.E.N.T.  Not communications, by the police!  Communication personnel are responsible for their OWN equipment, NOT the portables!  LOL

I don’t speak on anything to do with surgery as I am not a surgeon and know nothing about it.  You should try using the same restraint.

Too funny!  Are the civilians in communications responsible for world hunger and cancer too?

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on February 3, 2014  12:25am


You really do need to wake up. Listen to the lyrics on the radio and you can readily find rappers using the this racial slur. I don’t hear any, repeat any, white musicians using the racial slur in their lyrics.

posted by: elmcityresident on February 3, 2014  12:06pm

i don’t it if black officers will use that word more likely the younger kids not cops use that word and thats not right but having a relative and plenty of friends that’s on the force including my father who retired i’ve never heard them utter that word!!SORRY

posted by: elmcityresident on February 3, 2014  12:10pm


posted by: Trustme on February 3, 2014  3:12pm

Well elmcityresident your talking about the people in “Blue” because you have some type of vendetta against them. (Which as been clearly proven by your past comments). I believe that you want a white NHPD officer to say that word, so you can continue to hate the police. Remember it might of not been a white cop that said it, so humble yourself and wait for the outcome.

posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on February 3, 2014  6:26pm

On thinking further, the NHPD does have a huge race problem, which is not as blatant as a radio transmission. Some of it is fostered by anecdotal tales of veteran officers, many of which never did anything wrong, and survive to this day, within an environment that relies on the subtle biases and divisions that are made between the rank and file, when they come through the police academy. This is done by the department’s instructors, under the direction of management, with a curriculum that is mandated by the state, but tweeked by the Yale “think tank”.

The great fear of a unified force of people, within a community, given so many powers of arrest and life and death, is always a concern for people who manage cities. This is even taught to these officers as they get their LE degree. But it is a brief seminar, so they fail to see how this thought process is one of the main motivators, in pitting officers against each other. That way they can never truly organize their organization, or lead it in a direction, that is not at the direction of the great minds who dictate what methods of mind control will be used to control this armed group. (in EH, the lack of great minds running their department, and town, led to most of their problems.)

In New Haven, since the arrival of Pastore/Esserman, in the early ninties, it was first sowing the seeds of distrust of new recruits against any and all veterans. They used anecdotal tales, most of which were baseless, or out an out lies, to turn all of “their” cops, coming out of the academy, against the majority of veterans, along lines of race hate, sexism, homophobia, and in some cases religion. As new classes arrived, they continued this manipulation, on the same slimey levels, but included classes of cops, that they themselves turned out. And on and on. The true goal was to destroy the union, weaken it, not splinter it, but shatter it, like a plate glass window. And the end result. lOOK AT YOUR CONTRACT

posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on February 3, 2014  10:19pm

One more time. I have seen and heard some strange forms of logic, or illogic, in the NHPD, based on race or racism. There were some officers who came to the department that members of the department before them, were all political, lazy, and racists. This afforded a rational to justify giving the least amount of effort when they went out on the streets, wearing a uniform, badge, and gun which was trusted to them by the public. Once first hand experience started to break down their pre-formed bias, their stereo typing of an entire group of people that came before them, a dilemma arose. If I admit I am wrong, that “these” people are not all useless and racist, I lose face. I lose all credibility. I make myself to appear ignorant. Pride comes before the fall.

The solution? Pursue promotion to plain clothes, or a supervisor’s postion, or even better a supervisor’s position where I don’t have to go out into the street. All of these positions became fortifications of fraud. The actual work load is supposed to increase with these promotions. That did not happen. Those individuals who came to the job with their built in prejudice, due to ignorance of real life, had not learned how to do the job, and these promotions allowed them to pursue this course of effortless occupation. Only problem was it destroyed the PD, which is evident in the failure to stop the heinous, and grossly illegal violence that continues to plague New Haven. And there’s the rub, where does the actual, in house, insidious racism lie? And how much of this racism manifested itself in institutionalized passive aggressive behavior, which does nothing but disservice the public, yearning to be safe and secure in their city.

Oh, the other side of the coin? All those young white officers who for years have justified their own lack of character, honor, work ethic, with the attitude that if management was going to let “them” do nothing, “well, I’ll do less”. Real Heroes.