Velleca Retiring As Assistant Chief
by Paul Bass | Dec 12, 2011 9:05 am
Posted to: Legal Writes
The phone rang at 1:30 a.m.: Another homicide. The assistant chief needed to get to the scene.
The baby had already woken John Velleca. Dad needed to feed her.
Velleca had to make a quick decision: The job, or the bottle.
“I know in the back of my mind I should put on a suit and go to the crime scene,” he recalled. That’s what he usually does when a homicide call comes in. Not this time. “I made the decision to be with my family.”
Four days later, that led to another decision: After 20 years on the job, including four years quickly ascending the department ladder and helping to steer the department through a period of tumult and transition, Velleca plans to retire on Jan. 21. He informed Chief Dean Esserman of his decision this past Friday morning. He planned to inform his team of supervisors at a 10 a.m. meeting Monday in the detective division’s conference room.
Two weeks before that 1:30 a.m. call, Velleca had decided not to rush to another nighttime homicide scene. That time anyone could understand: His wife Lori was about to give birth to their first daughter, Jenni (pictured at the top of the story in her dad’s lap at their home).
The second instance signaled to Velleca that the time had arrived for a life change: Spend more time at home. Finally finish that criminal justice degree that got sidelined by a year of (to date) 130 shootings and 32 homicides. Let New Haven’s new police chief pick his top team.
“I’ve gone as far as I can go in the department,” Velleca, who’s 42, said in a relaxed interview at his Durham home Sunday. Though he has another six weeks on the job, the imminent release of day-to-day stress was already visible. “I don’t want to be one of those guys who have a problem giving up a position like that.”
He described the priority that a job like like assistant chief assumes in a person’s life. “You’re out on every murder. Every major incident your detectives go to, they should have their assistant chief. The family of the victim deserves to have [top brass] there. That’s the life of a detective no one sees—getting up in the middle of the night, working the case for days while you’re missing family functions and holidays.”
If he could no longer do that, Velleca concluded, then he should “step aside and let someone else do it. I spent 20 years and gave my all to the city of New Haven, the police department, the cops. Now I don’t want to shortchange anybody—my family or the community.”
Velleca’s departure could be the opening move in a larger reorganization of the department under Esserman, who began work last month.
Esserman said Monday that it is premature to say how he will fill Velleca’s or other positions.
“I’ll discuss this all with the mayor. My plan is to continue to listen and learn. I’m still doing one on ones with every captain, lieutenant and sergeant in the department along with meeting with the assistant chiefs every week. I’m getting to know the team that’s there,” Esserman said. He said Velleca “needs to be thanked by a grateful city for giving 20 years of service to the people of New Haven. He has been entrusted with some of the most important responsibilities in the department.”
Velleca praised Esserman for giving him the chance to figure out his next step. “[Previous Chief Frank] Limon got to pick his team. I was on that team. This is an important position; he [Esserman] should pick someone he’s comfortable with.” Velleca said he saw what happened years ago when the chief didn’t get to pick his deputy. “The chief and the assistant chief didn’t get along. All that really hurt was the rank and file patrol officers. It transcended the entire department.”
Over the past four years, a series of chiefs and other officials tapped Velleca for a wild ride of promotions and pressure-cooker responsibility.
The first tap came in 2007 from then-Police Chief James Lewis. Lewis arrived in town after the FBI raided the department’s narcotics unit and made corruption arrests. Lewis disbanded the unit—then decided Velleca was the man to reconstitute it. Velleca did. (Read about that here.)
Unlike a 2007 stop-and-frisk saturation campaign called “ID Net” and the department’s notorious “Beat Down Posse” of the 1980s, the reconstituted 15-person tactical narcotics unit (TNU) avoided random stops of people on the street, Velleca said.
“We didn’t grip and rip-roll into an area, shaking down everyone. We didn’t just roll in there. We knew who we were looking for. We had done an investigation. If there were 100 kids, we knew the one or two we wanted. The other 98 shouldn’t be bothered. It’s their neighborhood. They have a right to be there.”
In its first full year, 2009, the TNU executed close to 100 search warrants, made nearly 1,000 arrests, according to Velleca. He said he was proudest of a different statistic: It had zero citizen complaints filed against it. “The right people [to be arrested] know what they were doing [and don’t complain] as long as you don’t beat the shit out of them. You don’t pile a thousand charges on them to break their balls.”
An oversized TNU sticker greets visitors on the door leading from the garage to the inside of Velleca’s house. He had on a black TNU hoodie on during Sunday’s interview. His role in reviving the unit remains his proudest accomplishment.
Lewis also turned to Velleca after a Yale lab tech strangled a graduate student named Annie Le to death. They had a suspect, but weren’t ready to make an arrest. Lewis put Velleca in charge of keeping tabs on suspect Raymond Clark for days while investigators compiled to evidence for an arrest warrant. (Read about that here.)
In a conversation Sunday night, Lewis called Velleca his “most important” internal appointment in New Haven. He said if he were “starting another organization some place,” he’d seek to recruit him.
“He had to start from scratch [with the TNU]—redo the policies, get it up and running, pick the people.. He had to rebuild the credibility,” Lewis recalled. “I was always comfortable knowing he was handling it. He is a very focused guy. He would sometimes rub people the wrong way because he was so focused; we talked about dealing with other people internally and externally to get good teamwork. He always tried to improve. I was always real impressed with John.”
Lewis left town after 20 months. A new chief, Frank Limon, came into town. Like Lewis, he brought his own deputies.
One of those deputies, Assistant Chief Tom Wheeler, tapped Velleca in August 2010 to take over the Major Crimes Unit. That included overseeing the TNU, among other divisions.
The TNU, in concert with suburban cops and state and federal law enforcement agencies, spent a year compiling evidence against the city’s most notorious gang, Newhallvile-based R2. By the time they finished, more alleged dealers and shooters—77 people in all, from street soldiers to the alleged capo—were arrested than in any other gang takedown in city history. (Read about that here.)
Under Velleca, the detective division also dusted off cold cases, and made this arrest in an 11-year-old murder.
Meanwhile, MCU went from a record of having solved two of the 22 most recent homicides in August of 2010, to a current 90 percent solvability rate, according to Velleca.
Wheeler said Sunday night that he credits Velleca with helping him reorient how the division investigates murders, focusing intensely on the first 24-48 hours; upping training; and mentoring young detectives in a division that had lost many of its veterans.
“I couldn’t have done it without him. He was my right hand,” said Wheeler, who ran the Chicago police department’s busiest detective division before coming to New Haven. (He now works as a senior policy adviser for the director of the Illinois state police.) “[Velleca] was knowledgeable. He had the integrity. He was as good as my best” lieutenants in Chicago. “[New Haven is] losing an asset when they’re losing John.”
Chief Limon then tapped Velleca this past April to serve as one of three new assistant chiefs. Velleca oversaw the detective division as well as major crimes. By the time Limon went AWOL this fall, Velleca had already been filling in as acting chief in his absences. Mayor John DeStefano turned to Velleca to serve as acting chief when Limon’s departure became official this October, until Esserman’s November arrival.
Esserman is the department’s fourth chief in four years, not counting the interludes in which Velleca and Stephanie Redding served in “acting” capacities. The turnstile, and a leap in murders this year, have left the department directionless at times and under pressure from both the inside and outside.
After Chief Lewis, his mentor, left town, Velleca was learning his new jobs largely on his own. Meanwhile, tensions surfaced between the cops and the state prosecutor’s office, and infighting grew inside 1 Union Ave.
“I rolled with that,” Velleca said of the challenges he took on. “Sometimes it was difficult. Sometimes people bristled. I was of the mind you do your job, that’s it. That’s what you owe the community. I never felt as if I needed to ask you to do a good report or investigation. That’s what you were paid to do.
“Some people didn’t like it. Some people appreciated it.”
Esserman has promised to start in a new era with a renewed commitment to community policing. Meanwhile, Velleca will begin a new era—as a dad, at a job in a quieter quarter with no 1:30 a.m. homicide calls (“I’ve had more than a few job offers” already, he said), and as an Albertus Magnus student finishing up his undergraduate criminal justice degree. If the professor asks the class at Albertus what it’s like to walk a beat, solve a murder, reorganize a narcotics unit, or oversee an urban police force, he might see a hand go up.
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Thank you for your years of service. I’m sorry to see you go.
I bet he saw the had writing on the wall.I bet all of you more will be retiring very soon.Mark my words.
P.S.Esserman said Monday that it is premature to say how he will fill Velleca’s or other positions.
“I’ll discuss this all with the mayor
Sounds like King John is in control.
“If the professor asks the class at Albertus what it’s like to walk a beat, solve a murder, reorganize a narcotics unit, or oversee an urban police force, he might see a hand go up.”
Firstly, I believe that Chief Velleca could teach a seminar at UNH. I hope that he comes back and teaches at the next New Haven Citizen’s Police Academy.
Secondly, shouldn’t he have been able to take FMLA to stay home and take care of his wife and child. Perhaps then he would have hit twenty five years on the force. How many years of retirement will the people of New Haven now have to pay?
Thirdly, every time a new “Chief” has come to town, he’s brought some of his “posse” with him. There’s no room left at the top at 1 Union, so I hope that Chief Esserman follows through on his pledge and focuses on restoring walking beats. Captains can do walking beats I suppose since we don’t have enough to handle each District (actually the OIC of Patrol historically has been a Captain with the appropriate pay). Leave my Sgts alone!!!
Poor Beansie and her older sister. They’ll be paying for pennywise pound-foolish decisions for years to come.
Just like the canned rookies let go in Spring of 2011 that benefited other parts of the State of Connecticut, New Haven’s loss of John Velleca will be some else’s gain. BOPC has some ‘splaining to do. It will be interesting to see how next Tuesday’s BOPC meeting runs.
Lastly, our little family will miss you in Foxon Chief Velleca. Thanks for all you have accomplished in the last twenty years.
To Velleca, enjoy your daughter. I’m sure she is precious and your love for her will be unconditional and you will do all that you can to protect her. Congrats!!I trust Chief Esserman is serious about restoring faith, integrity and respect to NHPD.Some of it was initiated with decisions Asst Chief Adger made in the past year therefore;hopefuly she will turn out to be his “right hand”; the one most connected with our community.She is truly committed to this city where she has lived all her life and hope she will given the opportunity to serve her community to her greatest capacity. Sometimes it takes someone in the community to recognize its strengths. She has made some great choices already in Internal Affairs and Victim Services. She knows community policing to be more than simply walking the beat. It’s about taking the time to get to know the community and recognizing an arrest should not be the first thought for every indiscretion.It’s about greeting and respecting those who unfortunately are without shelter unless they are crating a distrubance. It’s about meeting, greeting and being respectful to families.It’s about allowing our young people to grow up without fear or disdain for police. It’s about police being a friend, a protector, a servant and yes sometimes the one who arrests when warranted yet doing so without assault, tazing and shooting unless ABSOLUTELY necessary.
Thank you Asst. Chief Vellecca for your service, to New Haven, my community and my street. You will be greatly missed but I am glad that you are able to enjoy your family, your baby girl, and your new life! Good luck and good life!
..until you walk in any of our shoes,..have someone high on pcp fighting with you,..pointing a gun at you,..or dealing with someone being a total a$$ because he or she feels entitled and has no respect for themselves,,,thy neighbor or authority,...then please DO NOT TELL US HOW TO DO OUR JOB…new haven is a mess as other cities across this great nation because the police can no longer be POLICE,..we are too busy being the father/mother, doctor/nurse,..pastor/clergy person,..social worker to every one who expects it and feel it’s their right,..because we wear that uniform,...i’m not against community policing but like all forms of policing,..there is a time and a place for it,...it’s not a cure all,..and never will be,..time for society as a whole accept responsibilities and repercussions for their actions,...including driving an unregistered vehicle,....but for all the people who pay car taxes/insurance/registration and have a valid license,..they(we) are the ones that suffer because you feel it’s an unimportant law that police should not enforce….............
John Velleca doesn’t know me from a hole in the wall, but I remember him. When I was going through FTO and when he was a Sgt., I had two encounters with him.
There was an incident in the Hill and when I arrived on the scene, he was already questioning a suspect. I stood next to him, watched, and listened. he was firm, but fair and he had the demeanor of someone who knew how to walk softly but carried a very big stick. Something started happening in a nearby house, so I had to leave while he and another officer stayed with the suspect. He and I never spoke and, at the time, I didn’t even know his name.
The second incident was also while I was going through FTO and he was a Sgt. I had been on a long foot chase through the Hill and during the chase and apprehension I lost my baton. He wasn’t involved in that incident, but when I got back to headquarters, I saw him and he walked up to me and asked me if I was alright and if I had found my baton. I remember thinking how did he know I was the one involved in the chase, but all I said was, “Yes, sir” to both questions and that was the end of our encounter. He didn’t know my name, but this time I looked at his name plate and saw “J. Velleca” printed on it.
I learned a lot from him from just those two incidents and since then I’ve watched him rise through the ranks. I have nothing but admiration and respect for him, even though he doesn’t know me and when I return to law enforcement, I would do well to become half the officer he is. Congratulations John. Thank you for serving and protecting us for 20 years and enjoy your retirement, your future, and, most importantly, your family.
Was velleca offered the top job before esserman? If vellaca was so great why wasn’t he promoted? Just wondering.
He was a great Cop…he did his job well…he could be counted on….he was above board…he was a good role model…The down side of his early pending retirement at such a young age will impact the unfunded liability of the Police & Firemen’s Retirement Fund….The pension formula needs to be adjusted…Buying years of service with accumulated sick leave is killing the pension…Counting a portion of extra duty work towards the pension is impacting the unfunded liability also. Making deals (not Velleca) behind close doors to enhance pensions is part of the problem….The assistant chief paid his dues, risked his life and sacrificed time with his family like so many others do. However, the bottom line is the pension formula is too liberal.
Velleca seems like a popular cop in New Haven, however is this 42 yr old man going to be collecting a +100k retirement annually for the second half of his life?
One thing about Bjfair.(as opposed to “Insider98).... She doesn’t hide behind a computer and a “staged name” to comment. She has the courage to call a spade a spade and withstand the attacks. “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you, then they attack you and then you win”. Gandhi (a very wise man);)
Right on the money? After 20 years, retirement benefits kick in, so basically in a world in which most people have to work into their 70s, this guy basically can retire with 42? Nice. Looking at the murder rates over the last couple of years, I’d say he has done a somewhat crappy job.
I worked for AC Velleca for a few years on the midnight shift, and I have great respect for him. One night I came to work without my duty belt and Velleca immediatley questioned me. When I told him that I lost it, and all the equipment except my gun, he said “get your head out of your ass.” But he proceeded to strip his own duty belt off and give it to me. I said “I can’t take your belt sarge. What will you do?” He said “I’ll manage.” Moments later the captain came out and bitched out Velleca for not having his duty belt on. Velleca made up some excuse that I don’t remember, and the captain walked away. The next night I returned his belt and said “sorry to get you in trouble with the captain sarge.” He said “he’ll get over it.” That’s the kind of guy Velleca is, a real cop. He always had our back and stood behind us. Good luck AC, I hope you catch on at another PD. I’ll be happy to lateral transfer there.
Thanks for your knowledge and hard work AC Velleca and now it is time where we will see all the politics rolling around in the police department. Its sad you had to leave ...
AC Velleca we all seen your departure coming cause we knew you wouldn’t change your ways. When Chief Esserman said he wasn’t bringing anyone into the department with him we all knew this was just another lie like the past Chief.
AC Velleca good luck with your retirement and good luck to all the coat tails that followed you because they will more than likely will be smacked into reality.
What a gorgeous baby and what a lovely photo of the baby relaxing, cradled in her dad’s big hands.
Another good NHPD officer gone after a Chief from the outside comes in. Does anyone else see a trend here?
Esserman reports that he is happy to be back home. Back home? You are not from New Haven and only worked here for 3 years. You were never a cop, and never permanant a resident of New Haven. You, right now, do not even have arrest powers! Do a story on that NHI.
Whenever the NHPD has a leader like Velleca who tells it like it is and walks the walk, the Mayor and GA get rid of him.
It’s a black day in the NHPD, again. Until the Mayors office is truley out of the NHPD and the GA realizes they have to step up and work rather than have everything handed to them on a silver platter, the NHPD will continue to lose its top officers.
The GA AKA Ivory Tower on Church St , their inspectors, and the mayor need to do their job and let the NHPD do theirs.
Good luck to Velecca, Reichard, and all the other NHPD brass that were great officers who were chased out.
Scubasteve! Hope you and your family are well. I don’t think you’ll remember me, but you were my first FTO in 2007. If you do remember me, tell Warren P. I said hello and that I have been to his wife’s shop…very delicious! Take care and be safe.
To JD as a detective here in New Haven I would like to remind people who make these outrageous comments on the the police/fire pension fund..first of all WE FUND THE PENSION..every week money is taken out of our paychecks. The CITY does not match it. So after twenty years of service you can RETIRE. The pension is setup this way because its a HAZARDOUS DUTY job. So secondly if people don’t like it and think its unfair well if a police or fire department is hiring go fill out a application and apply then you can find out what it means to risk your life,work long strange hours,work weekends, holidays and miss time away from your family…
You’re making a slight mistake here. We pay your salaries via our taxes. And they are set up in a way that you can save for retirement without any need for an additional match by the city. While I agree that this is a somewhat dangerous job (at least in NH), how many cops have been seriously hurt over the last 20 years? (working many other jobs, say being in a coal mine, is also very dangerous, but these people do not get to retire after 20 years). You are NOT fighting a war in a foreign country. As for fitness reasons, while I agree that I would not want to have 60 year old cops chasing criminals, I am not sure that a 42 year-old can do this much worse than a 30 year old (maybe depends, many in NH do not look they can even walk a mile, much less run). The signing up for police/fire is a somewhat lame argument, so I should take every job that I believe is overpaid? The point here was to say that in our world today, it cannot be that one can retire from a job in 20 years while one would be capable of performing that job for a number of more years to come. Also, I believe we still have free speech in this country and one can voice a concern about a certain profession without having to sign up for this profession in the first place.
Hey Eric! Got your message. Glad you enjoyed the tasty treats. Hope all is well with you and the family. You are missed and were an asset to the NHPD. I’m sure your excelling at what ever it is you are involved. God Bless!
To Eric Smith,
The “ScubaSteve” that posted is not me. I never worked midnights or did anything like that. However, I do remember you and I hope all is well. Hope you and your family are well and have a great holliday. Maybe we can meet at Warrens shop for some free samples. Lol
Good luck John, you earn the respect. You walked the walk.
Diver119 and W. Palmer,
It’s great to hear from both of you! I miss being with the NHPD and I think about the 2 of you and all of my classmates from Class XIII every day, especially when I hear about the things all of you are doing. FYI…I’m in the process of returning to law enforcement, but not at the municipal level. If I see either of you on the street, I’ll be sure to say hello. Until then, be safe and enjoy the holidays!
Good luck sir!
Bad omen when Chief of Police says he has to consult with the Mayor, as to who to put in Dep-Chief spot.
Looks like we go another lacky, and Mayor is still chief!
@JD I agree with Det.93.Buy the way He and other union workers pay taxes also,So what is you point.I am sick and tired of you union hates,Like he said you should take the job with these typoe of benfits.I left the private sector for the same reason that Det 93 is talking about.You talk about being in a coal mine, is also very dangerous, but these people do not get to retire after 20 year.If they would form a union may be they would get the right to retire after 20 year.And buy the way non union people benfit from the rights that unions get for the workers.
If you union hates want the same benfits.Then form a union.
“Although it is true that only about 20 percent of American workers are in unions, that 20 percent sets the standards across the board in salaries, benefits and working conditions. If you are making a decent salary in a non-union company, you owe that to the unions. One thing that corporations do not do is give out money out of the goodness of their hearts.” Molly Ivins
Every advance in this half-century-Social Security, civil rights, Medicare, aid to education, one after another -came with the support and leadership of American Labor
The labor movement means just this: It is the last noble protest of the American people against the power of incorporated wealth.
“History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
P.S.I forgot if it was not for the union Haymarket Riot you union hates would be working more then a 8-hour work day.
This has NOTHING to do with unions. I agree that unions are a good thing to some extend. We need to ensure that a job is paid for with a decent wage, has health care and allows for retirement (but at 65 and not 42). The downside of unions is that they protect the people within the union that have a job and really do nothing for the people on the outside who do not have a job. In some sense, this is very similar to the 99% debate that is going on right now. The major thing the unions have been able to do is protect and shield the unionized workforce for the last few decades. In part, these salaries are out of whack (see UAW), while everybody else has suffered. This seems not such a good approach for everybody else.
However, I strongly disagree that we can have any kind of job where you retire with 42. While nice, clearly this is not sustainable. And again, public jobs are paid by OUR taxes and not by some profit or revenue that is generated. While we all would want that everybody has a great life and retires early, this is a piece of the pie problem and the pie is limited in size. So if we allow this for police/fire to happen, somebody else will have to work longer.
@JDThis has NOTHING to do with unions. I agree that unions are a good thing to some extend. We need to ensure that a job is paid for with a decent wage, has health care and allows for retirement (but at 65 and not 42).
And why should they not have the right to retire in twenty years.The military has 20-year fixed retirement benefit paid for by the tax payers.Again how come you and others don’t form a union to get the same job benfits. Read this on what NYPD does.
Still on Patrol After Two Decades, Valued but RareBy JOSEPH BERGER
Published: December 13, 2011
The downside of unions is that they protect the people within the union that have a job and really do nothing for the people on the outside who do not have a job. In some sense, this is very similar to the 99% debate that is going on right now. The major thing the unions have been able to do is protect and shield the unionized workforce for the last few decades. In part, these salaries are out of whack (see UAW), while everybody else has suffered. This seems not such a good approach for everybody else.
Not true union workers can be fired.The union makes should that they the workers must get a fair hearing.And by the way did you know that Civil Service jobs were control by the Spoils system.The spoils system was a method of appointing family and friends to Civil Service jobs with political connections. you take about how the unions have been able to protect and shield the unionized workforce for the last few decades. In part, these salaries are out of whack (see UAW), while everybody else has suffered.How about how the crooked two party system politicians voted for the bank bail outs.How about the golden parachutes tht these crooked bankers and hegde fund crooks get.
Biggest Golden Parachutes
As outcry grows over executives who reap millions in severance bonuses in the face of their companies’ downfalls and bail-outs, TIME takes a look at other golden parachutes — and the people who opened them.
And again, public jobs are paid by OUR taxes and not by some profit or revenue that is generated. While we all would want that everybody has a great life and retires early, this is a piece of the pie problem and the pie is limited in size. So if we allow this for police/fire to happen, somebody else will have to work longer.
Show me proof that police/firefighters and other civil service workers are not taxpayers to.The ones I know have W-2 tax forms that they file every year.They also pay car tax and property tax.Like I said I used to work in the private sector and like Det 93 said I took the test for a civil serivce job in 1974 and passed the test.So when the next test comes out take it.And you also have the right to form a union and fight to get the same benfits as those in civil service jobs.
Again, I am not sure what any of your arguments have to do with anything. Clearly, police/fire pay taxes. But compared to the whole tax base, this is a very small part and thus the salaries indeed get paid by other people taxes. With regards to the army, this seems slightly different. There you always run the risk of getting send to war, which has a pretty realistic change of death or dismemberment (see the 4,500 killed in Iraq). And, if you go off to war, having a bunch of 40+ year old people running around the desert/jungle would probably not very valuable. They do not drive around nice cars and check for broken taillights as far as I can tell.
I am all for paying police/fire well, as they provide a valuable public service, I am just not happy with the fact that doing this for 20 years basically is considered sufficient. Maybe after 20 years, no running around duty, but maybe these people can be moved to admin job or training jobs. Again, in a world where most people struggle with retirement and have to work beyond 65, this seems somewhat not fair. And not everybody can become a police/fire person, as we clearly not need 100 million of those jobs.