Union Holds Back On Hold-Downs

Paul Bass PhotoIf the police union budges from its current negotiating stance, New Haven might see “hold downs” again.

City officials are seeking to launch a six-month test allowing the regular extra-duty police assignments at housing complexes—but not at commercial businesses, an arrangement that one former chief called a perilous form of favoritism.

The pilot test is being held up amid broader negotiations on a new union contract.

Police Union Local 530 President Louis Cavaliere Jr. said Friday that he will accept only “all or nothing”—a full permanent return to hold-downs at all kinds of private entities, including bars.

Hold-downs are extra-duty jobs that police officers work—on a regular basis—for private entities. The private entities tell the police department they need a cop working at their properties; the department chooses which officers get the lucrative extra work.

Until former Police Chief James Lewis came to town, bar owners would get to pick the same cop to work week after week at their establishments. Lewis said he had never seen a department with such a practice, which he argued left the city vulnerable to a dangerously symbiotic relationship: The cop hired by the club owner would have an incentive to look the other way at wrongdoing in order to keep the gig. Lewis abolished the practice in 2010, angering officers accustomed to the work. Extra-duty jobs now are assigned on a rotating basis. (Click here to read about the debate at the time.)

Since then, one wrinkle has emerged: What about dangerous private housing complexes? Regular-duty patrol cops can include complexes as part of regular beats, but can’t park in just one out of countless complexes week after week for entire shifts.

District managers—the top cops in New Haven’s 10 policing areas—started telling current Chief Dean Esserman that trouble had developed in some of those complexes because of the demise of hold-downs.

“There were unanticipated consequences of what seemed to have had some benefits,” Esserman said Friday. “I wanted to listen.

“[Extra-duty] officers weren’t practicing community policing, because they didn’t know the residents. We canvassed the district commanders. We asked them to recommend locations.”

A Murder Connection?

Case in point: The privately-owned, but publicly-subsidized, Church Street South housing complex, aka “The Jungle,” across from the train station.

For years, Lt. Holly Wasilewski and other regulars with hold-down jobs at the complex and knew the faces of people who belonged there, and people who didn’t. That’s supposed to be the way community policing works. The end of hold-downs—combined with, for a while, the complex management’s pulling back on spending the money for extra-duty officers—led to long stretches of prime-time crime hours with no officers around, or other times with officers unfamiliar with the terrain.

Paul Bass PhotoOn Sept. 18 an extra-duty cop went home at 7 p.m.  A half-hour later a 6-year-old boy stared at his father’s bullet-ridden body in a stairwell. It was the third murder in the complex in the two years since Lewis banished hold-downs; only one murder had occurred there over the previous decade. (Read about that here.)

Marie Mirvil (at right in photo), who has lived in Church Street South for eight years, called it a “50-50 chance” that having had the regular extra-duty beats back there might have prevented a gunman from killing her brother Joseph that night.

That episode sparked discussions among cops and the complex’s management about improving security there. It also helped spark a reassessment of the broader department-wide hold-down ban. Since then, murder police and union brass have been negotiating a modification: Keep the hold-down ban on bars and other commercial businesses, but revive it at troubled privately-run housing complexes. The experiment, about to unfold once city and union officials sign off on the final details, will involve one such complex in each of the city’s policing districts.

The hold-downs will not return to commercial businesses.

The district managers (top cops) in each neighborhood will choose the residential sites for the experiment.

“Absolutely Not”

Melissa Bailey File PhotoBut before they can do that, the union needs to sign off on the plan.

And it won’t, said union President Cavaliere (second from right in photo).

“I can’t agree to it. It has to be all or nothing,” he declared.

“The union fought to keep hold-downs. The city took them away. Now they want a six-month experiment? We said absolutely not.

“I understand what they’re trying to do. [But] this would cause so much problems in the department. You would have district managers in control of such major accounts. You’d have cops saying, ‘Wait, we had this before.’”

Cavaliere was asked about former Chief Lewis’s criticism of the old arrangement, with its potential for corrupt alliances between bar owners and extra-duty cops who rely on the work.

“People thought there were ‘mafia tactics.’ But you’re also more loyal to the place” if a cop has a permanent hold-down at a business, he argued. The officers are more likely to show up on a holiday to work at Stop and Shop or a Wal-mart if they have a long-term relationship, Cavaliere argued. He also argued that that cop will also do a better job if he has the gig long-term: “If you work a certain store, you get the m.o. of the criminal: ‘He’s going to the razor blades. He’s looking suspicious. That’s the formula aisle.’”

Cavaliere noted that the city and the union are in the midst of negotiations on a new contract.

“Maybe we would be willing to give them something for a trial period if they give us something in return,” he said. “We’re in negotiations. Let’s slow down now. We haven’t had a contract for two years now.”

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posted by: PH on November 23, 2012  1:51pm

The union needs to remember the primary goal of policing, not the finest way to line its members pockets.  Having a continuous, familiar presence in residential crime hotbeds is a no-brainer.  Having a continuous, familiar presence in a commercial profit-driven entity is completely distinct.  The notion that officers wouldn’t show up on certain dates at private businesses and therefore should have “affiliations” with specific entities is a preposterous basis on which to call for an “all or nothing” approach.

The risk of corruption at private businesses is significant.  It is closer to nonexistent at a public/private housing complex. The union needs to start looking at the big picture and remember the basic goal of policing or they are going to end up with less supporters in the community.

posted by: Curious on November 26, 2012  10:21am

1. Why i this an all-or-nothing position by the union, other than they are playing hardball because they are negotiating a contract?  Union Prez Cavallere Jr. offers absolutely no logic to why this should be the case.

2. If community policing is the issue here, why not limit the off-duty work to those officers who walk the beat in the neighborhood where the work is to be done?  If Church Street South is your area, you can work extra-duty shifts there….officers not working those streets don’t.

3. How much community policing is done while on these shifts, anyway?  I find it hard to believe what Cavallere Jr. says about officers stopping crime because they know the stores, since the ones I see “working” at Stop and Shop usually have their nose buried in a newspaper or their cellphones.  It’s hard to spot someone suspicious when you’re texting for five, ten minutes at a clip.

(If you work a certain store, you get the m.o. of the criminal: ‘He’s going to the razor blades. He’s looking suspicious. That’s the formula aisle.’”)

posted by: HhE on November 26, 2012  6:15pm

I’m with PH and Curious on this one.

posted by: Edward_H on November 29, 2012  3:28am

” The cop hired by the club owner would have an incentive to look the other way at wrongdoing in order to keep the gig.”

That’s a good point. Cops look the other way when concerning their own wrongdoings via the Blue Wall of Silence. I can see how this can be extended to protect a personal finiancial interrest