“It’s Not Just About The Equipment”

Aliyya Swaby PhotoConvened by Connecticut’s U.S. senators to discuss the militarization of law enforcement in the aftermath of police violence in Ferguson, local chiefs encouraged a focus on the quality of community relations over the specific tools used.

U.S. Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal held the meeting with state and local law enforcement officials in New Haven City Hall Thursday afternoon to discuss the proper use of military-grade equipment distributed through the federal 1033 program. The meeting reflected a national debate in the wake of reports that the Department of Defense supplied local police in Ferguson, Mo., with weapons then used against citizens protesting an officer’s killing of an unarmed black man.

Chiefs from New Haven, Trumbull, Fairfield, and Southern Connecticut State University shared their experiences using specific equipment and defended the need for certain items in cases of emergency. The senators asked them specific questions on assets and training protocol, to prepare for a debate in Washington on the federal program in September.

Blumenthal said the weapons and vehicles in Ferguson “should have been used defensively, not offensively,” and could save police lives, if accompanied by proper training and community policing.

The use of more powerful vehicles and offensive weapons on a local level can contribute to an “impression of distance” between the police and the public, Murphy said, especially when combined with a lack of communication.

Police chiefs said military-grade equipment is sometimes the cheapest option, although not directly suited to local enforcement needs. The Fairfield police department was not able to afford standard search and rescue vehicles, but received MRAPs, armored military vehicles, without cost through the federal program.

Aliyya Swaby PhotoGary MacNamara (pictured), Fairfield’s chief, said the department used the MRAPs for rescue efforts during Hurricane Sandy. The vehicles seemed “intimidating” until they were needed to pull people from their houses during the floods, he argued.

“It’s an example of a military vehicle being used for 100 percent good,” he said. “Don’t judge us on our equipment.”

New Haven does not have MRAPs. The department did use money from the Department of Homeland Security to buy Lenco BearCats, smaller armored vehicles. Police use the vehicle for SWAT missions.

Aliyya Swaby PhotoAssistant Police Chief Luiz Casanova (pictured) said New Haven cops regularly display the vehicle during community events so that people feel “familiar” with it instead of frightened. They also ensure officers are properly trained on the use of any equipment. Only certain officers are allowed to handle the department’s semi-automatic AK-15s; they receive training four times per year.

“It’s not just about the equipment,” he said. “It’s about the people holding the equipment.”

New Haven has not received military equipment since Chief Dean Esserman returned to New Haven in 2011, Assistant Police Chief Archie Generoso said. The department is “satisfied” with its current assets.

As a member of the Senate’s Judiciary and Armed Services Committees, Blumenthal said, he plans to draft a memo asking for increased transparency and accountability in the federal program.

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posted by: BenBerkowitz on September 4, 2014  10:11pm

I’m glad that a militarized police force is not an issue in NHV.  I continue to like NHPD under Chief Esserman.  Promoting Casanova to Assistant Police Chief makes me increasingly confident as well.  Chief Casanova will have a good ring to it when Esserman decides that its time for retirement.

posted by: Nathan on September 5, 2014  1:39am

According to the article text, the quote is: “It’s not just about the equipment,” he said. “It’s about the people holding the equipment.”  Yet, the title of the link changes it to, “It’s not about the equipment”.  Continuing with that theme of spinning the story, the headline, “Cops Stress Community Over Weapons”, doesn’t appear to belong with the quotes offered by the law enforcement members.  They are speaking positively about the equipment and justifying it being used properly.

[Ed.: Thanks for pointing that out. Headline’s fixed.]

posted by: connecticutcontrarian on September 5, 2014  3:21am

It’s peculiar that the political/government response to Michael Brown’s murder has nothing to do with Michael Brown’s murder.  We’ve known for years that police forces have become paramilitary units. Just look at the astonishingly quick militaristic response to the bombing in Boston or the gun threat at yale. Legislators have quickly organized meetings,  proposed hearings, and offered investigations into weaponry yet largely remained silent on the core of the unrest in Ferguson,  New York, and even here in New Haven.

posted by: gioex0323 on September 5, 2014  7:24am

I’m not sure what a AK-15 is, but I know that the New Haven Police Dept. does not carry such a weapon.  The officers that are qualified to do so carry Colt M-4’s, as does the SWAT team but theirs are modified to be mission specific.

posted by: Elm City Resident on September 5, 2014  8:20am

Ditto what @BenBerkowitz said.

posted by: Noteworthy on September 5, 2014  11:59am

It’s amusing to watch the same people who were so critical of Ferguson, now defend their own version and use of military hardware especially NHV. No MRAPs? No, they just have these armored vehicles with shoot holes on the side that bear a striking resemblence to MRAPs -


Only certain officer are authorized for the AK-15? How many exactly? There sure seemed like a lot of AKs out and about at Yale during the fake shooter incident. Or even the Colt - both are assault style weapons. For record, parading the Bearcat around does not make it less formidable, less threatening especially when the cops are all masked up, dressed in black like ninja warriors and carrying assault weapons. Look at the picture in this story and compare to Ferguson - tell me NHV is not militarized.


posted by: THREEFIFTHS on September 5, 2014  2:29pm

“It’s Not Just About The Equipment”

Correct.It is more about POLICE VIOLENCE and Police Brutality.It is also about how police patrol urban areas.Have you forgot a man was put in a choke hold in New York before Ferguson.How about stop and frisk used on people of color? So forget about The Equipment.Also Bull Connor used a Armored Vehicle in Birmingham in




posted by: BenBerkowitz on September 4, 2014 10:11pm

I’m glad that a militarized police force is not an issue in NHV.  I continue to like NHPD under Chief Esserman.  Promoting Casanova to Assistant Police Chief makes me increasingly confident as well.  Chief Casanova will have a good ring to it when Esserman decides that its time for retirement.

Do not drink the kool Aid.Chief Esserman is very good friends with Chief Bratton of New York.

Esserman worked under Bratton as the counsel for the New York City Transit Police in the late 1980s. Bratton’s first visit to New Haven celebrated Esserman’s appointment as assistant chief in the early 1990s; Bratton returned in 2011 when Esserman was sworn in as the Elm City’s chief.

In his introduction Tuesday night, Bratton called Esserman among “the most innovative, creative, and inventive leaders” he has ever “had the privilege to know.” Esserman called Bratton his most influential teacher. “I stand in his shadow” of Bratton, he said after receiving his award. “And I stand there proudly.”