Bruce Bonner received a new sergeant’s badge just one day before he retires from the police force—and, he said, four years after he should have had it.
Bonner, a 22-year veteran of the New Haven police department, received his new badge in a City Hall ceremony at 12:30 p.m. Thursday. His promotion was the result of a legal settlement last month between the city and a number of cops who sued over the handling of a promotions exam.
According to the terms of that settlement, Bonner’s new shield and chevrons arrived one day before his retirement, just in time for him to lock in a sergeant’s pension and avoid changes to health care benefits that will kick in for active cops on July 1.
It was a “bittersweet” moment, said Bonner, who is 51. It’s nice to make sergeant, he said, but it doesn’t make up for coming to work as a patrol cop for four years, knowing you should be in a higher position. That’s what happened because of the way the city dealt with the results of a 2009 promotions exam, Bonner said.
Bonner was one of a group of African-American cops who sued the city after the civil service commission approved a promotions list from a 2009 exam for only one year, instead of the usual two. The commission voted to do so after one commissioner worried aloud that no Latinos had scored highly enough to be promoted to sergeant.
The case echoed the Ricci v. DeStefano lawsuit, in which a mostly-white group of 20 firefighters sued the city after it threw out the results of a promotions exam because no black firefighters scored highly. That case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled for the firefighters.
Bonner’s case, in which he was the lead plaintiff, didn’t end up in the high court. The city agreed to settle it last month, awarding back pay to five plaintiffs and agreeing to promote them to sergeant.
As cops milled about City Hall’s lofty atrium before Thursday’s promotion ceremony, Bonner reflected on his 22-year career, and the way it ended.
Bonner said he was recruited to join the New Haven police department by then-police Chief Nick Pastore, who made a point of hiring minority cops as part of bringing community policing to New Haven in the 1990s.
At the time, Bonner, who grew up in Hamden, was a cop at Southern Connecticut State University. One day in 1990, he was driving a campus cruiser on Whalley Avenue. Pastore pulled him over.
“You’re supposed to be a New Haven policeman,” Pastore told him.
They spoke on the phone the next day, and Pastore hired Bonner for the department.
“He was a man of his word,” Bonner said. “He was good to me.”
Several years later, Pastore put out the word that he wanted to diversify the motorcycle cop squad. Four new cops were assigned to motorcycles: a white woman and a Latino, an Asian, and an African-American man—Bonner.
His years on a motorcycle were some of the best in his career, said Bonner. “I was young, and it was exciting.”
Bonner has been less satisfied during his last few years on the job, since the trouble with the 2009 promotions exam.
“I still feel disappointed,” Bonner said. He should have been promoted in 2009, or 2010 at the latest, he said. “I had a lot of missed opportunities.”
Bonner pointed to Lt. Anthony Campbell, standing nearby in a white lieutenant’s shirt. Bonner and Campbell took the sergeant’s exam at the same time, Bonner said. Campbell scored higher, and was promoted during the year that the list was valid. Bonner remained an officer, thus missing out on the future promotions Campbell achieved.
“He’s chief of staff,” Bonner said. “Yesterday I was a patrolman pushing 911 calls. It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.”
Finally getting the sergeant’s badge doesn’t make up for coming to work for years, feeling everyday that “you should be somewhere else,” Bonner said. It doesn’t make up for seeing cops with the same number of years on the force moving up to supervisor positions, while you’re stuck with rookies who wonder why you were passed over. “What kind of slug are you?”
When it came time for his public remarks at Thursday’s ceremony, Bonner didn’t hold back. “This should have happened a while ago,” he said, after thanking his family and his fellow cops.
When minorities do well, they should be given opportunities, he said. “For them to try to move forward and not be allowed to is hurtful.”
Despite the disappointment, Bonner loved being a cop, he said. “I loved coming to work. This was a great job. I’d like to see more minorities have the opportunities I did.”
Asked after the ceremony about Bonner’s sentiments, Mayor Toni Harp (pictured) said, “I think the police force needs to look like the community it serves. The reality is young people need people they can look up to.”
“We’ve just got make sure we have a just and clear system, and that people can advance in it no matter their color,” she said.
posted by: AverageTaxpayer on June 13, 2014 12:09pm
Wow! I wish I could retire with 80% pay at age 51.
My guess is that Bonner doesn’t actually retire, but goes and joins another police force, doing the same job but with a $75,000/year kicker courtesy of New Haven taxpayers.
Great system we have here!
posted by: Atticus Shrugged on June 13, 2014 1:30pm
I appreciate Mayor Harp’s remarks and commend the honesty of Sergeant Bonner. No one can know what it was for Sergeant Bonner to suffer under the burden of being passed over but I thank him for articulating as much.
As for the new police recruits, 18 of the 26 are white males according to the New Haven Register. There are two black officers, five hispanic officers, and one other. See http://www.nhregister.com/general-news/20140406/with-100-vacancies-26-police-recruits-in-new-haven-pipeline. This, in a city that is at least 22% hispanic and 37% black. It does force one to raise eyebrows.
As to Robn’s statement about contradictions, that would only be the case if one presumed whites to be mentally superior to blacks and hispanics. Otherwise, one may rightly assume that the test or those conducting interviews (presumably overwhelmingly white if the incoming class is any reflection), give preferential treatment to white people. That is at the very least a reasonable read on the facts. It is the same reason why many find fault with the SATs, as they favor upper and upper middle class values in questions, leading to at times inflated scores for people in the echelon.
Regardless, justice being served should not be marred by such pettiness. Congratulations Sergeant Bonner. And good luck on your next adventure.
posted by: Atticus Shrugged on June 13, 2014 5:27pm
I disagree with you. No where did Mayor Harp say that race should not be considered. At this point, I will digress from Mayor Harp as I cannot know exactly what she thinks. And she did not proffer enough for anyone to draw a linear conclusion from her statements.
I implied that people should have an equal opportunity regardless of race. People are born, more or less, equally capable of achieving. Societal impacts such as poverty, race, socioeconomic factors, can hinder one’s ability to achieve. Race is a factor because other’s may view and treat one differently despite having no rational basis for doing so. This can be seen with “stop and frisk” in New York, which has long-term effects on the mental state of blacks who are disproportionately targeted, to the Donald Sterlings of the world.
I then look at the police recruits, 70% white, 7.6% black, and 19% hispanic and ask what external factors may have caused this. Could it be interviewer bias? Test question bias? Any other form of bias? If the questioning is biased, then does it further a legitimate police/law enforcement goal? To be fair, I’ve not taken the police test but I doubt very much that the preliminary test really has much to do with being a cop. The same occurs with the SAT (which measures first year college success only marginally), the MCAT (no one really does organic chemistry in medical school), the LSAT (extremely pointless).
If the tests are not truly correlative to future success, then removing them or adjusting them to eliminate bias actually helps further the goal of racial equality. If they are not, then failing to address their inherent racial biases merely perpetuates an inplace race-based preference system.
To knock Mayor Harp for acknowledging this inherent conundrum and saying that the system may be flawed, is intellectually dishonest. Or you just can’t see how failure to change perpetuates racial privilege.
posted by: Ozzie on June 13, 2014 5:39pm
@ Atticus shrugged I may be wrong but doesn’ t the City give residency points (5) to City residents. By your calculations the City is 59 % Black and hispanic but those extra 5 points are only added on once the City residents pass the whole test . Which includes written, oral ,Polygraph, Pschycological and the big one backround checks. It doesn’t matter if your white, black , hispanic or color green, if you don’t pass the test you can’t be a cop.
Regarding Average taxpayer you can only get 80 % of your pay when your total years of service add up to 30 years Bonnor did 22 which would be 53 % and you could buy no more then 5 years with military service ,educational or sick time which would give at most 27 years being 71% of his pay. So get the facts straight before you comment. Everyone had the oppotuntry at one time or another to be a Police Officer, but most didn’t want to work long hours in the cold or blistering heat, weekends, nights, or holidays and be away from family. Or maybe they just couldn’t pass the test.
posted by: robn on June 13, 2014 7:10pm
What you wrote; “No where did Mayor Harp say that race should not be considered.”
What Mayor Harpo said; “We’ve just got make sure we have a just and clear system, and that people can advance in it no matter their color.”
Since its clear that her supporters are willing to ignore her pandering contradictions, I’m not going to argue my same correct point over and over with you; goodbye.
posted by: Bradley on June 15, 2014 7:03am
Ozzie, the pension benefits for cops are extraordinary by public, much less private, sector standards. Yes, cops often work long hours in the heat or cold, but so do city sanitation workers and private sector construction workers. Yes, being a cop is often stressful, but so is being a public school teacher, and the workplace injury and fatality rates are higher for farm workers than cops. But none of these other workers can retire in their 40s or early 50s. Nor would a promotion on their last day of work increase their pension.
Sgt. Bonner is entitled to his pension and I wish him well. But both equity and the city’s long-term economic viability require that it negotiate more reasonable contracts in the future. This is particularly true in light of the fact the average life expectancy of a 50-year old man is well over 30 years (I hope that Sgt. Bonner beats the odds and lives even longer).
posted by: William Kurtz on June 17, 2014 9:03am
Yes, the ones you cited. Those are the ones I referred to.
Let’s start with the second one:
“We’ve just got make sure we have a just and clear system, and that people can advance in it no matter their color.”
The mayor—perhaps pointedly—doesn’t say that ‘color’ can’t be a factor for advancement, but only that people “can advance . . . no matter their color”. In other words, people of any color or race have opportunities.
The first one, about the police force looking like the community, is a generally laudable goal.
They’re really not that hard to reconcile, as Atticus Shrugged has already explained better than I can.