Ex-Top Cop Warns Of Policing Politics

Paul Bass Photo A former top New Haven cop who watched “politics” “corrupt” the police department a decade ago warns that those conditions may be returning, based on three new controversies.

John Velleca issued that warning Thursday during an appearance on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven” program.

He cited three new developments as the basis for his concern:

• The denial of a promotion to a respected internal affairs investigator who had scored near the top of a promotional exam.

• A state human rights agency staff investigator’s finding that officials bowed to pressure from an East Shore alder to reassign a Latino district manager with an unblemished record.

A move by the Board of Alders to assume control of some day-to-day decisions at the police department.

Velleca, a retired assistant police chief who also served as a stint as acting chief, said this reminds him of the environment at 1 Union Ave. in the early-to-mid-2000s, when political pressure from both inside and outside the department led to decisions that weren’t based on merit or public safety. He argued that “rampant politics” back then set the stage for a federal raid of New Haven narcotics officers who were on the take. Velleca was tasked with rebuilding the narcotics and intelligence unit following that federal investigation.

“Why did we even need the reform era?” asked Velleca, WNHH’s resident policing expert. “Because the political era got so out of control with picking whoever they wanted. What happened? Rampant corruption. We’re pushing right back to the political era.”

Skipping The List

Velleca said he saw internal department politics at play in the decision by Chief Anthony Campbell to skip over Sgt. Rose Dell for promotion this Friday night to lieutenant. Dell scored number three out of more than 30 people who passed the civil service test for the position; 13 lieutenants, 11 of whom scored below here, have been approved for promotion.

“I would have promoted her,” said Velleca, who said he respected Dell’s work over the years.

Dell’s attorney, former police Commissioner Jonathan Einhorn, charged that the denial of the promotion stemmed from retaliation from cops who dislike her because she has diligently investigated internal affairs cases.

Chief Campbell told the Independent that he made the decision because Dell is currently the subject of an internal investigation. Campbell, who just became chief, said he was following his predecessors’ practice of not promoting people who have pending internal investigations against them.

A colleague initially accused Dell of having given a video of a dirt biker rider’s near-fatal collision to the Independent. That proved untrue. But still under investigation is an allegation that Dell, who works on the accident reconstruction team, took a colleague’s cell phone that contained the video and forwarded the video to herself instead of following proper procedure for handling evidence.

In the WNHH interview, Velleca said past practice has worked both ways: sometimes candidates under investigation have been promoted, sometimes not.

In any case, he said, under the worst-case scenario, the alleged violation Dell is being investigated for would never conceivably prevent her promotion, even if proven true. It would merit discipline, but that’s all, he said.

 

He contrasted her case to that of other cops who were promoted to top spots after, for instance, being found by internal affairs to have lied under oath about having abused a citizen’s rights (including slapping a cellphone camera out of his hand) in a Wal-Mart parking dispute after a history of troubling disciplinary incidents. (Read about that here.)

The list of promotions for Friday night’s ceremonies includes a cop who seized the camera of a news reporter in violation of department policy and a court consent decree after ordering his arrest (on charges a judge ultimately dismissed); and another officer who’s currently the subject of a federal lawsuit claiming that he unfairly arrested a man and seized his phone after the man videorecorded him.

Velleca said that given successful lawsuits over promotions, officials need to be careful when deviating from the order of results on a civil service test list. He argued that a pending internal affairs investigation should stop a promotion only if the offense being investigated would conceivably prevent a promotion if proved true. And if the officer involved has a “track record” as a “bad actor.”

Campbell also faced potential backlash within the department if he had promoted Dell under these circumstances, in part because of factional likes and dislikes, in part because he and Dell, fellow Yale alums, are personal friends.

Velleca rejected allowing that to be a consideration in promotional decisions.

“If you’re going to start worrying what people will” say, bad decisions will follow, argued Velleca, who publicly supported Campbell’s appointment as chief and continues to praise his integrity and ability. “This is a tough job. You’re not going to make everyone happy.”

Who Picks Neighborhood Top Cops

File photo Chief Campbell made an east side politician, Morris Cove Alder and State Rep. Al Paolillo Jr., happy. That may be presenting a new problem, and a potential lawsuit, for the department.

That lawsuit could come from former top East Shore cop Wilfredo Cruz. Cruz complained to the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) that department brass reassigned him from his district manager post because Paolillo complained that he didn’t want a Hispanic in the post.

A draft finding issued by a CHRO investigator found that allegation to be true. The investigator’s report quoted two assistant chiefs verifying that the decision happened that way, for that reason. (Read a full story about that here.) Such decisions, if upheld in a final version, have served as the basis for subsequent discrimination lawsuits.

However, Campbell — who made the reassignment decision as interim chief at the time — told the CHRO a different story. He said Paolillo and race had nothing to do with it. He said complaints from citizens about poor performance led to the decision. The CHRO investigator found that no record exists of complaints or poor performance, that in fact Cruz had compiled a good record. Campbell had also publicly defended Paolillo as not being racist; in turn, Paolillo, who has been the leading critic of the police department and the previous police chief on the Board of Alders, enthusiastically supported Campbell’s permanent appointment as chief.

In the WNHH interview, Velleca said the issue isn’t whether or not Paolillo is a racist. “I don’t think Al Paolillo is a racist,” he said.

Rather, he said, the issue is how department brass makes decisions about which district managers to assign where — and whether politics plays too much of a role.

The CHRO report noted that Paolillo refused to return phone calls and emails from Cruz seeking a sit-down to address complaints.

Velleca said that reflects a confidence among politicians that they can straight to the top of the department to have their wishes heeded without having to work with district managers.

“A culture has been established where [connected] people in every district believe they get to ‘pick their own’” top cops, Velleca said. “It’s a matter of the alder believes he can go right to the chief of police, and they get their pick. I understand you should be able to come to the chief of police and express what your problems are. But when you get to pick your people as the alder in the area,” that politicizes the process and eventually leads to “rampant corruption.”

Similar conversations are now taking place about whether, say, black cops should be picked to run the Newhallville and Dixwell districts.

Velleca argued that while it’s important to give all citizens a chance to express their views on the matter, it’s important that chiefs resist political pressure or pick district managers based on their races. The decision should be made based on qualifications, he said.

Pressed on whether cops’ cultural backgrounds or other connections to a neighborhood should ever be taken into consideration, Velleca argued that Fair Haven should have a top cop and some officers who speak Spanish because members of the large immigrant population in the neighborhood need to have people with whom to communicate complaints and concerns.

Oversight Oversights?

Velleca also raised concerns about new rules the Board of Alders passed as part of the new city budget concerning oversight of the police department.

The rules — vetoed by the mayor, whose veto was then unanimously overridden — require police officials to gain Board of Alders approval before they:

• spend money on salary increases for assistant chiefs (until a new police union contract is settled).
• spend on new lieutenant salaries or reassigning sergeants, until a deployment plan for supervisors and patrol officers is presented and discussed with alders.
• spending on overtime over $1 million.
• determine who’s in charge of the department when the chief leaves town.

The alders, led by Paolillo, argued that the changes were necessary because of years of overtime overspending; because the police department has failed to communicate well enough with alders; and because Campbell, when he was interim chief, had to miss at an alder committee meeting dealing with police issues.

Mayor Toni Harp argued that the alders overreached with the new measures, saying that the executive branch and police brass need to be responsible for day-to-day management. In this opinion article, Harp argued that the changes pub public safety at risk, an allegation the alders dispute.

Velleca sided with Harp, arguing that the changes inject politics into decisions that need to be free from politics.

“Who [on the Board of Alders] has the level of expertise to say how that department should run day to day? No one,” he said.

Velleca argued that the alders should tackle broader policy issues. For instance, he argued, they should tackle the question of whether the city can afford to carry out its “community policing” strategy without running up overtime bills

“Overtime is out of control. I get it,” he said. “But we have to look to our community and see the level of service they need. The level of service that we’ve established here in New Haven is expensive. If you want walking beats, it’s expensive. It’s overtime driven. Now if you don’t want that because you want to save the overtime, we have to scale back the overtime. We can’t do it all.”

 

Click on or download the above audio file to listen to the full interview with John Velleca and WNHH station maanger Harry Droz on “Dateline New Haven.”

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 6, 2017  7:31pm

A former top New Haven cop who watched “politics” “corrupt” the police department a decade ago warns that those conditions may be returning, based on three new controversies.

Time to bring in the The Knapp Commission

http://criminology-articles.blogspot.com/2016/01/the-knapp-commission-and-its-impact-on.html

Hey John you sound like the movie Prince of the City 1981 Treat Williams—Danny’s Breakdown scene

https://youtu.be/lF5h5iwwEn0

posted by: Frank Columbo on July 7, 2017  2:06am

I’m a fan of Law and Order: Special Victim’s Unit.  The character of Det. Olivia Benson is an inspiring role model for girls and women alike.  However this is a fictional drama and Det. Benson’s moral compass is never headed in the wrong direction.

In real life there are times when one is compromised into actions that result in prostituting one’s integrity.  Members of the law enforcement/criminal justice system participate accordingly within these scenarios on a daily basis, thus the need for Innocence Projects.

“A culture has been established where [connected] people get to pick their own cops”.  Really Mr. Velleca the culture of privilege has existed for eons and those who have access are accustomed to having the rules bent or being above it all.  The average Joes are considered lesser so prosecutors and police collude to suppress the truth, deliberately pursuing convictions for the innocent, the lesser, blaming the victim and protecting those “Connected”.  They sleep just fine.

posted by: southwest on July 7, 2017  10:00am

Funny how the privilege ones always complain when they don’t get picked for a promotion…I remember their were numerous articles back in the day when cops would meet with a non politician that own a fur shop and actually payed cash for their promotions..I have come to realize just because a candidate scored high on an examine doesn’t mean they are more qualified..if that’s the case the police department along with other worldly organizations would be ruined perfect ..just take a look at politics in DC ...they won but are they qualified to run the Oval Office…I don’t think so with all the mayhem taking place but in their peers eyes they are doing just fine…qualification is in the eyes of their beholders and peers because they think the same and have the same visions…wasn’t Einhorn. a police Commissioner he knows how promotions was handed out and done…all anyone want is to be treated fair but in policing and politics the game have never been fair..look at the Blacks,Hispanics,and females had to do lawsuits to get hired and even promoted..when the old bargade bargain for their sons and relatives to be on the job, wether they were qualified or not..some ,had felony arrest and the list could go on and on…but in essence they were hired because of the last names and politics…Vellaca I’m sure no these things regarding politics….which will never change ..the only change is the new names in the political arena and everything else stays the same because they learned from their Predecessors… so the beat goes on and everything stays the same ..it’s the nature of the beast..Reality!!!

posted by: Inside 165 on July 7, 2017  10:56am

I get it if you want to grant expert status to former AC Velleca on police tactics and deployment but these issues center around more the human resource/budgetary/legal arenas. I don’t think his past would demonstrate a sound knowledge base in these areas.

I lend my breakdown on these issues.

Skipping Sgt. Dell due to an unsubstantiated IA complaint makes no sense for several reasons. The first being its inconsistent with Campbells previous recommendations for promotions of officers similarly situated. Second even if substantiated would it rise to the level of demotion?  Let’s be real here. Campbell basically did nothing to a SRO cop who stalked a student at her job in uniform and told her to come with him to his house for a body massage. If she takes legal action she will prevail and then we will be on the hook for a minimum of back pay if we’re lucky. What should really happen here is her union President, Craig Miller, should file a grievance regardless of any action she takes.  The argument for the union is there was disciplinary action imposed without just cause. I.E. Campbell was dumb enough to say that he skipped her because of perceived misconduct. Therefore one may presume that he would have promoted her if there was no pending IA investigation. Since an investigation isn’t a conclusion of wrongdoing and doesn’t rise to the level of just cause which is a contractual threshold for discipline and the lack of promotion is an adverse employment action the union has a valid claim. CRAIG MILLER I know it’s scary but it’s time to do something to protect your members rights. Being quoted in the paper doesn’t cut it.

I’ll address the other two issues later today. Hopefully by then Union President Craig Miller will have taken some type of legal action to protect his memebers rights.

posted by: Inside 165 on July 7, 2017  11:10am

Southwest

I agree with you. Scoring third doesn’t mean your the third best choice.

The only problem with your diatribe is Campbell didn’t say he skipped her to get someone more qualified or because she needed not experience or in his observation she wouldn’t be good at supervising supervisor or findings that she had violated some department policies or rules or done anything illegal. Campbell attributed it to an open IA investigation. That’s it. Using a threshold that low would put most of the ranking officers in the NHPD out of a job. In the meantime you could have been convicted of some crimes, have crappy employment history and lived smoking pot up until last year and the PD will give you a job.

posted by: JohnDVelleca on July 7, 2017  12:26pm

@Inside165

Well, let me begin by thanking you for your kinds words as they are much appreciated.  A backhanded compliment suggesting administrative incompetency is much more tolerable than your usual straight forward, venomous remarks.  Nonetheless, I think our relationship is growing and heading in a positive direction.  Maybe we’ll get to the point one day when you are comfortable enough to reveal your identity and we will be enlightened by the source of your vast knowledge.  I have many questions for you. 
    However, you are correct that tactics/operations/officer deployment was much more my expertise than many of the administrative functions.  I am well aware of my many shortcomings, I can assure you.  But, I’m not sure if the promotional pass-over of Dell can be resolved through the grievance procedure as it is not a prohibited labor practice engaged in by the Chief.  The Chief is allowed to invoke the rule of three; he’s done nothing wrong.  I believe a couple of cops by the last name of Kelly tried this years ago and were directed to civil litigation by the union.  Litigation that they won, I may add (backpay and rank).  Maybe you weren’t “in the know” then like you are now, or maybe you just forgot.  Either way, thanks again for the compliment.

posted by: Frank Columbo on July 8, 2017  2:19am

So the consensus of opinion Re- the Dell promotion Passover, makes no sense,  Even if the charges of failure to properly document evidence is. Proven, this would only result in just to plan, and would not prevent promotion.

So in the words of the late great journalist Dominic Dunne, “What is this telling us quote?

There’s obviously more to this story then is being revealed.  Other accident investigations that Dell was the lead on, are probably under review.

Trust me this effort is not in vain.

posted by: Inside 165 on July 8, 2017  4:01pm

J.D. Velleca if you have interpreted anything I’ve said previously as venomous that was not my intention. I’ve always strived to support my opinions with facts and sometimes those are unpleasant realities. If I have been incorrect in my recitation of anything or it came across as “venomous”, especially if it involved you, than I offer my apology.

My compliment wasn’t backhanded. I have every confidence in your expertise as stated and would take your word for it in situations involving those matters. The 2 interactions I’ve had with you over my career you always presented yourself as a professional. Maybe one day I will have the courage to reveal myself but as I have a few more years left to go here I don’t want to become the victim of being unfairly forced out of my job for no legitimate reason. I’m sure you can appreciate that. You’re not the only one who’s felt my sting I’m sure.

A point of clarification. A grievance is used to resolve a violation of the contract. A prohibitive labor practice is a violation of the law and would require a different type of filing. I do remember the Kelly case. I also know that the courts require workers to exhaust their administrative remedies first. Filing a grievance would certainly at minimum accomplish that mandate. I think the union could additionally make a strong argument that the Chief violated the just cause provision for discipline. You see it was the Chief who stated the reason why he did it and also clearly implied if cleared she could be promoted in March. Let me give you an example of my theory. Let’s say Sgt. Dell was already promoted and this issue arose. Do you think Campbell or the Commissioners could demote her purely for the fact that she was being investigated by IA and it would be sustained by an arbitration panel. You’re correct, the answer is no. So I think there’s a viable argument to be made.

I too look forward to our growing relationship and will keep my fangs tucked back next time my mouth opens