Faced with a triple threat—warm-weather spikes in violence, an ongoing shortage of cops, and a cascade of retirements—the police department plans to give each neighborhood district an extra 24-40 hours of overtime patrols a week throughout the summer.
Mayor Toni Harp, Board of Alders leaders, and Police Chief Dean Esserman publicly announced the plan at a 5 p.m. press conference Thursday in City Hall.
“With crime continuing to go down in New Haven, we want to respond to the recent uptick, quickly and decisively,” Esserman said.
The plan’s key feature: The top cop in each of the city’s ten policing districts will receive an overtime allotment of six to ten additional four-hour patrol shifts weekly into September.
In addition, the department will immediately revive the street narcotics unit, a year ahead of schedule, with the aim of getting wanted criminals off the street.
The initiative will cost an estimated $500,000. The money is to come from accelerated expenditures of appropriated overtime funding for the coming fiscal year as well as as-of-yet unspecified outside sources; or from unused city money found as the year progresses.
It includes non-policing elements as well: an expanded Police Athletic League summer camp, which kicks off July 1; and increased youth programming by the schools, recreation and library departments.
The initiative follows an uptick in shootings now that the weather has gotten warmer and a resultant public outcry over violence. The plan was hammered out among the police chief, City Hall, and leading alders, who have been concerned about overtime costs in tough budget times.
Officials actually didn’t detail the plan—didn’t mention the 24-40-hour weekly patrol boost per neighborhood or the revived narcotics unit—at the press conference. Esserman did discuss the details when he previewed the initiative for the Police Commission at its Tuesday night meeting.
At that briefing, he described a triple whammy facing the department:
• More people come outside in warmer weather. “We had some very tough weekends in May and June,” he said. Then comes summer, when further trouble looms “with the kids out of school.”
• The department is currently down to 380 officers. “We are nearly 100 officers understaffed,” the chief said. “We’ve got to work with what we got.” And in warm weather, people tend to take more vacation time.
• On top of that, with changes to the cops’ health insurance looming in the new fiscal year, another 15 officers are retiring this month. Two assistant police chiefs are, as well, with 42 years of service between them. A current class of 25 recruits in the training academy will graduate in the fall, at which point they begin field training before hitting the streets in 2015. A second class begins at the academy at the end of July, graduating in the new year.
Esserman told the commissioners that district managers will use the extra shifts for focused enforcement—“to work on corners, to do extra walking beats, to work on dirt bikes, ... to work on the conditions of the district not controlled by headquarters. The district managers have a bucket of overtime that they can use or lose every week that’s discretionary focused enforcement. The district managers are thrilled. The Board of Alders and the leadership was great.”
“Right now we’re really tight, which is why I made this recommendation,” Esserman said. “The idea is that if I’m a district manager, I now know that I have six to ten extra shifts to focus on problems in my neighborhood.”
Meanwhile, the department will have the street narcotics unit back in place in two weeks. The unit will have ten members, including three detectives.
At Thursday evening’s press conference, Mayor Harp (at center in photo) placed the new initiative in the context of her administration’s ongoing efforts to engage young people more—including a citywide canvass of families with young people in trouble, the institution of a weekly “Youth Stat” inter-agency data-sharing session, and the solicitation of donations from businesses to make up for some (though not all) of the shortfall in summer jobs caused by state and federal budget cuts.
Board of Alders President Perez lent his support at the press conference. That was significant, because in the past Perez has pushed the police department to rein in overtime.
This is a special situation, Perez explained, because of all the retirements and the shortfall of cops.
“We must do something” this summer, he said. “We cannot reproduce officers overnight. So we have to be creative. I commend the city for thinking outside the box.”
After the press conference, he identified some reasons that paying for that extra $500,000 overtime might not be as difficult as at some other times. The city had planned for some retirements in the new fiscal year budget, he said, but more cops ended up retiring. That saves money, when a position is vacant for at least some months, and even when new cops come on the force, because they get paid less than the more experienced retirees had made.
Three high-ranking cops’ retirements—those of Assistant Chiefs Thaddeus Reddish and Denise Blanchard and major crimes boss Lt. Al Vazquez—also came as a surprise to budget planners this spring. Their retirements produce some of the biggest savings, unanticipated in the budget. Counting benefits, each of the cops cost the city well more than $100,000 a year.
Rookie Leaves, Too
The continued loss of experienced cops—with an attendant century-plus-worth of vanishing experience—was a theme at Thursday morning’s weekly Compstat data-sharing session at police headquarters.
Cops gave a standing ovation (pictured above) for Sgt. Jimmy Grasso, the head of the department’s shooting task force. Grasso, the son of a New Haven cop, is one of the 15 officers retiring this month. His tour of duty ends this week.
Grasso’s boss, Sgt. Al Vazquez, who is also retiring this month, presented Grasso with a plaque commemorating his 22 and a half years on the force.
“It’s been an honor and a privilege to wear the badge of the New Haven police department,” an emotional Grasso remarked.
Sgt. Marco Francia, whose last day on the force was Wednesday, addressed the gathering as well—and spoke of the departure of not only old-timers, but young officers as well.
Just last week a rookie Hill walking-beat patrol officer, Corey Thomas, took a new job with the New Britain police—along with a $28,000 raise.
Francia appealed to “City Hall” to improve cops’ pay, or risk losing more talent.
“They need to know they’re needed here. Otherwise the department is going to lose our fine young officers to other departments,” Francia said.