Summer Anti-Violence Plan Unveiled

Paul Bass PhotoFaced 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.

Unexpected Savings

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.

Paul Bass PhotoSgt. 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.

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posted by: cupojoe on June 12, 2014  3:55pm

How much extra money for the Public LIBRARY? And PARKS & REC?

Summer School?

The police, as amazing as they are, are at the wrong end of the problem on this one.

An ounce of PREVENTION…

posted by: BillSaunders1 on June 12, 2014  7:55pm

Didn’t you read that right, Cup o Joe…..

Any excuse for POLICE OVERTIME, that ‘budget’ category has a historical ‘difficulty’ staying within the lines…. !

posted by: Noteworthy on June 12, 2014  8:11pm

More patrols and more expense do not equate to safety. This is all about theater. Nothing more. With Arts and Ideas about to start - this presser was the opening act.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on June 12, 2014  8:40pm

This Headline hurts my heart.

The Rev. Mr. Samuel T Ross-Lee
Immanuel Baptist Church
New Haven, CT

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on June 13, 2014  12:39am

Mayor Harp ran on the concept of safe streets.  To her credit, she’s keeping her promise.

Will this prevent all potential crime from occurring?  Absolutely not.  But to do nothing, is tantamount to a dereliction duty. 

We can’t have it both ways.  If the Mayor does nothing, she’s vilified.  Now that she’s taking a proactive approach with hopes of saving lives, it’s costing too much.

Ask the parents who lost their babies to gun violence if the price is too high.

posted by: robn on June 13, 2014  8:49am

cha-ching! If you we’re wondering what the mysterious “line of credit” was in this years budget, Erik Johnson’s absurd raise was one; here’s another.

posted by: ProUnion on June 13, 2014  10:15am

-The department is currently down to 380 officers. “We are nearly 100 officers understaffed,” the chief said.
-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.

The Mayor and Police Chief need to wake up! How do you expect to keep well qualified officers when you keep stripping them of their hard earned wages and benefits? Police officers in NH are over worked, under paid, unappreciated and mistreated.

Local 530 needs to get their heads out of their butts and start fighting for what these officers deserve! Stop throwing rookies under the bus to preserve benefits for the old timers and start FIGHTING for equal benefits for ALL. Unions are about SOLIDARITY! Start organizing and fight for better rights, wages and benefits for your members.

Collective Bargaining:
Labor unions function by using “collective bargaining,” a system whereby members work together to formulate changes they want in the workplace and use their collective power to negotiate with the employer.

Unionized workers typically have substantially higher pay and better benefits than workers in the same industry who are not members of a union.

posted by: Albatross on June 13, 2014  10:17am

Can’t the mayor do without her police chauffeurs for a few months, and help out the effort by putting two officers back on the street?

posted by: Noteworthy on June 13, 2014  11:35am

The Truth Notes:

1. More cops, more overtime, more patrols do not make you safer. It turns you into a police state with a budget that is killing taxpayers.

2. Chief Esserman, Perez, Paolillo and especialy Mayor Harp have zero idea on how many cops we actually NEED in New Haven. There has never been a manpower study, to my knowledge, of what our police department profile should be. Esserman’s mantra of just give me more and “I’ll keep you safe” is based on what? 

3. In fact, if you look at police employment at cities much larger than New Haven, we are overstaffed, and especially if the cop count goes as high as the budgeted 480 officers. Look at the staffing levels at other cities around the country. Find it here:

New Haven’s 380 current officer count equals 28.4 cops per 10,000 residents. If head count goes to 480, it will be 35.6 cops per 10,000.

For a city our size, that’s exceedingly, grotesquely absurd, far more than cities nearly double our size. At our current level, our police employment levels still rivals many of those same cities.

4. The reality is city leaders know what needs to be done to curb violence. Shut down the gun running, the drugs and the gangs. Intervene with the youth at church, at home and at school. Teach values, ethics and morals as part of the school curriculum. Harnass the power of the non-profits - they are already interacting with many of these troubled families already.

5. It’s time to quit pretending a larger police presence, a show of force and all its attendant costs, is the best answer. The others are lower profile but if they’re actually done consistently will likely yield much better results.

posted by: Hill Resident on June 13, 2014  11:52am

We are looking forward to having extra officers in our neighborhood this summer. It will help to keep the children and residents safe and that is more important to us than the ‘civil rights’ of those who chose to break the law by dealing drugs, burglarizing residences, terrorizing communities. Thanks Mayor and Chief ... looking forward to welcoming the extra duty officers in the Hill!

posted by: robn on June 13, 2014  1:19pm

...and on the subject of solving crimes; how about bringing back cops who solve crimes like John Vellecca. Oh I forgot, this is the city that punishes good behavior.

posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on June 13, 2014  1:35pm

This is like deja vue. Some of the names retiring, Francia, Reddish, Al Vasquez, Jimmy Grasso, have never been fully appreciated, and for the person quantifying their service to savings, you have no idea of the commitment, service, and dedication that is being lost. All of them survived and served through some of the most violent times in the city’s history. Not as bosses, but when they were younger and cops on the street. The number of individuals that were killers, the number of armed predator’s, child predators, real threats to the innocents that live and travel through New Haven, runs into the thousands, over the times of their careers.

Put their lives at risk? Again into the thousands of time. Correctly promoted, and placed into positions where their experience, insight, and wisdom, could be imbued to younger, promising officers, was the right course, but sadly this is lost to the people of New Haven, and THEIR police department. This type of talent, when shared is exponential. In other words four great cops, can create 16 great cops. We can only hope this is what happened and their proteges are identified and now placed in position to carry on the Quality.

Thank You to all of them, and a greater thanks to their families that do all they can to support theses folks when they were going “balls to the wall” , every day, not for the money, but to never give in to the thugs, and try and bring New Haven back to being a safe city. Job Well Done, take the 13.

posted by: TheMadcap on June 13, 2014  1:44pm

Velleca retired voluntarily after 20 years on the job after his wife had 2 kids, I’m not sure how the city is supposed to bring him back. Also I hope there’s more beat/bicycle patrols this summer.

posted by: NewHaven06513 on June 13, 2014  4:51pm

Why are we paying cops to run summer camps??? This makes no financial sense… Hire Teachers, college kids and high school kids to run the programs and put the cops on the street.

posted by: Ozzie on June 13, 2014  6:25pm

The City wouldn’t be in the situation it is if Destefano wasn’t so hard line to take away cops benifits and and lower the starting pay for three years .  Francia is right Of course people are going to retire and leave for better pay and benefits they’d be crazy not to. Who in their right mind wants to come on that job now as a rookie and fight with people and get shot at for under $800.00 dollars a week before taxes. Plus have no benifits for their kids and pay 50% for your spouses
  The City is going to have a revolving door when it comes to hiring cops and after their probation is up their headed to other towns who appreciate them for puting their lives on the line every day .Time to start renegotiating and to the young guys get rid of your union executive board they threw you guys and girls under the bus and vote in people with under 10 years on the job its your future your fighting for.