In New Haven, “Occupiers” Embrace The Cops

Paul Bass PhotoIn New York, demonstrators carried signs blasting cops as thugs. The slogan chanted on New Haven’s streets? “NHPD: You Are Family.”

That chant—issued Sunday as some 40 marchers carried signs on the sidewalks of New Haven’s Wall Street, per arrangement with the cops—was part of a continuous stream of praise and cooperation between demonstrators who set up an indefinite “occupation” of the upper Green and the police dispatched to watch them.

Or help them.

They didn’t say so in any official press releases, but some of the cops were clearly enjoying themselves on a sunny day amid the energetic, sometimes offbeat, passionate protesters.

The protesters took up residence on the Green Saturday, establishing a new colony called Occupy New Haven. The protest-in-residence is part of a nationwide phenomenon of “occupations” inspired by the mothership of Occupy Wall Street in New York City. It springs from a bubbling-over of frustration with income inequality and corporate greed in cities across the country.

Late Tuesday night into early Wednesday morning, protesters checked with cops before picketing at a streetcorner to make sure they wouldn’t be disturbing anyone. Then, at 12:10 a.m., an officer roused the camping occupiers to tell them to stop smoking the dope he was smelling. They thanked him again—and evicted people who had been using drugs.

In response to that incident, the group Wednesday night unanimously approved a new “good neighbor policy” vowing “zero tolerance” for illegal drug use or alcohol—read it here.

“I haven’t met anyone I didn’t like,” said one officer who ended up hanging out with camped-out protesters late one evening.

“Everyone’s thanking us for being there,” reported Lt. Rebecca Sweeney, the top downtown cop. “Everyone’s been cooperative and giving us information. I’m pretty happy with the way things are going. They’re calling us and letting us know when they’re marching and meeting.”

The story has been different elsewhere. Police have clashed with “occupiers” in cities from Boston to Atlanta since the national movement began weeks ago.

The differences reflect a central question facing the movement nationally: Does it make sense to gain attention by confronting power—or the guardians of power, in the form of the police? Or is that repeating a mistake that began with protests in the 1960s and 1970s? In that era, demonstrators demonized police (sometimes when provoked, often when not), and a string of Republican presidents from Richard Nixon through Ronald Reagan succeeded in promoting an economic policy geared toward the interests of the wealthy in part by exploiting cultural differences between white unionized working-class Americans and often more economically privileged protesters.

“They’re on our side,” said Martina Crouch (pictured), a Yale sophomore from Danbury who heads the New Haven Occupation’s Direct Action Committee. “A cop even offered me paper to write my sign.”

Crouch blamed both the police and the protesters in other cities for the tensions there, which are so far absent from New Haven. Some of the New York City protesters provoked police, she said; and some police provoked or overreacted on their own. “Once someone provokes once, that hostility doesn’t leave,” she said. “People don’t forget. [Here] we have a much more friendly approach. They have a much more friendly approach. We know what’s allowed. We respect the boundaries. There are reasons [for rules police put in place]: No open flames; no one wants to burn down a tent. It’s all been reasonable. They are with us.”

Advance Planning

The good vibes were no accident. They were in part a result of days of planning—as well as a 30-year modern tradition in New Haven of protesters working alongside cops, even if arrests are planned, to minimize disruption or tension. Which can be tricky when a hierarchical organization with clear lines of command (the police) has to interact with a movement committed to consensus decision-making and an absence of recognized leaders.

“We got ahead of it. We met with the folks that are the quasi-leaders out there, a clear line of communication with them,” said Lt. Luiz Casanova, head of patrol for the department. “They’ve been communicating with us. Things are going well.”

Thomas MacMillan PhotoOccupy New Haven organizer Ben Aubin’s Saturday announcement to a crowd of hundreds of protesters who showed up for the city’s first day of protest set the tone. “Everyone in charge of maintaining the safety of people in this city has opted to stand in solidarity with us,” Aubin declared.

Saturday’s occupation-creation followed days of groundwork laid by Aubin and others, including a Friday meeting between city officials and protest organizers. In contrast with other cities, where interactions between protesters and cops have been spiced with pepper spray and featured contentious stand-offs and mass arrests, occupiers in New Haven are working hand in hand with local government and law enforcement.

Both parties have agreed to ground rules for the encampment regarding tent placement and open flames. The New Haven parks department has even supplied portable toilets for the protesters.

Does this level of cooperation undermine the power of the occupation? If protesters aren’t causing inconvenience with political action, will it have any result?

Aubin said the cooperation with the city is purely pragmatic. His aim is to see that the occupation is “sustainable,” which means keeping people safe and comfortable for the long term.

“For me personally, it just makes sense,” he said Saturday. “Especially because we’re going into the cold season. We really need to keep an eye on people’s safety.”

The power of a lot of protests is in “making a lot of noise,” said Todd Sanders, another organizer. New Haven’s is different, he said.

“The idea of this is it’s about discussion,” Sanders said. Members of the Occupy Wall Street movement feel that the wealthiest 1 percent of the U.S. population controls an inordinate amount of resources, including the ability to voice ideas, he said. Occupy New Haven will be partly about having discussion forums on a variety of topics, to reclaim some of that ability, Sanders said.

“I feel like it is like a Greek agora,” Sanders said. It’s like a marketplace of ideas, where a libertarian, for example, can “try on” ideas through discussion with someone in favor of a larger government, Sanders said.

“We support people organizing around problems and seeking collaborative solutions,” said city spokesman Adam Joseph, when asked if the city is “in solidarity” with Occupy New Haven.

“Our role is to promote the public safety and welfare of the occupiers. We’re here to work with them,” Joseph said.

“We’re looking to avoid the problems other cities have had,” Joseph said on Friday.

Asked if the police department “stands in solidarity” with the protesters, police spokesman Officer Dave Hartman said, “We certainly agree that they have a right to do what they are doing.”

The question of “solidarity” is one of personal opinion, not a matter of policing, Hartman said. “Our function is safety.”

Neither the department nor the city have set a time limit on the occupation, said Hartman and Joseph. “We aren’t imposing a deadline,” Hartman said.

Neena Satija and Melissa Bailey contributed to this story.

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posted by: Josh Smith on October 20, 2011  2:57pm

Great article!  I love the fact that we don’t have to jump through the hoops that places like New York, Denver or Chicago have had to jump through.  It’s just so much better to work with the city and police so that we can focus on discussion and interaction rather than worrying about being moved by authorities every day.  I also love the fact that we passed the resolution last night for zero tolerance of drugs and alcohol on-site.  I really wish I could stay there at the Occupation full-time, as there is so much that needs to get done, but I am very busy working all the time.  Hopefully the movement continues to grow, and continues to have good discussions about what needs fixing in this country and how to best fix it.  Thank you, occupiers, for your dedication and hard work out there!

posted by: robn on October 20, 2011  3:01pm

Couple of good reads…

Krugman on Why Busts keep getting bigger and the history of Walter Wriston, economic cowboy.

A brief history of publicly held investment banks and why they’ve become such a pain in the @$$.

posted by: Atwater on October 20, 2011  3:21pm

This “protest” gets more and more ridiculous by the day. So, they aren’t against cops and they aren’t trying to create a disturbance. What’s the point? Disturbances have to be made. Banks should be picketed (maybe even a sit-in at Wells Fargo and/or BOA), effigies burned, roads blocked,  etc. Direct and compelling action is needed if anything is really going to change. Right now the occupation is looking more like a high-school civics project or some odd performance art piece.  This demonstration is supposed to show the people in charge the anger of the “99%”, well the occupiers in New Haven don’t seem too angry about anything.
The cops are friendly now because I’m sure they’d rather be babysitting “protestors” than actually doing real police work. But, if the protest ever gets serious the cops will be the first to turn, batons and tasers in hand.

posted by: ignoranceisbliss on October 20, 2011  3:21pm

Of course the cops are loving this. Pay at least time and 1/2 (since its Sunday the Union contract probably calls for more), beef up the final average compensation for your 85% pension after 20 years and some cute babes to check out! Unfortunately it is us poor homeowners who will pick up the tab.

posted by: Vinny G on October 20, 2011  3:43pm

Who is paying for the police for the protest?
The occupiers or the City?

posted by: Assistant Chief John Velleca on October 20, 2011  4:58pm

I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the great work being done by the New Haven Police Officers assigned to the Occupy Detail.  When I read articles like this, I feel very proud to part of the NHPD.  Your ability to provide intelligent and tolerant police service to the community is an example of true professionalism.  Community policing is a philosophy that promotes strategies that support the use of partnerships to proactively address conditions that give rise to public safety.  In contrast to our critics opinions, Community Policing has been the philosophy at the NHPD for the past twenty years.  At times it may have been on life-support, but it has never truly died.  Keep up the good work everyone, and as always, be safe.

posted by: streever on October 20, 2011  7:37pm

Vinny G/ignoranceisbliss
Want something to gripe about? Gripe about the mandatory police presence at closed roads for construction. They are paid by taxpayers.

Well, as the Mayor points out, they are paid by the contractor—but if you FOI a bill from a contractor, you’ll see they are listed as line item costs. When I first asked the city about this, they said that they weren’t billed for them at all. I took a screen shot of the line item cost and emailed it back to them, and they acknowledged that we do pay directly for the union required officers.

Want to get upset? Don’t get upset that police are present at protests, as part of the community, lending a hand and doing a great service to the public. Be upset that you are directly subsidizing the Mayor’s failed governor run by paying police to be at construction jobs in exchange for union support for the Mayor’s political runs.

posted by: lance on October 20, 2011  8:37pm

Community based policing stinks and doesn’t work.  CRIME FIGHTING works.  ...

posted by: Tom Burns on October 20, 2011  9:39pm

Awesome article—the New Haven Family at work—noone does it better—-thank you protesters for doing what needs to be done and thank you NHPD for being a part of the solution—together—all the factions can get this done without vitriol and blame—I love this city and the people in it———lets all talk—So proud of the city of New Haven—Tom

posted by: streever on October 20, 2011  9:44pm

Asst Chief Velleca
Great to see you in the comments, and even better to see your people at the protests. Thank you for doing such great work—it is really appreciated.

posted by: R on October 20, 2011  11:24pm

I, too, am not upset about the NHPD patrolling and being present at the Green right now. I, too, however, am upset about the bored, texting, cellphone-using cops I see at every construction site here in NH. I also am upset w/ that notorious, crew-cut cop who tickets and harasses and intimidates naive Yale students who don’t know they shouldn’t ride their bikes on the sidewalks - he’s a cop I don’t want to pay for, either. The ones at the Green? Whatever, I don’t mind. there should just be more “cool” cops like them.

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 21, 2011  1:58am

While admire Assistant Chief Velleca as a police officer, his role as commenter on this story is easily cast into doubt.

In the wake last weeks out of court settlement, police brutality claims, and the controversial departure of the sitting Police Chief, his statement can be viewed as little more than politically motivated damage control.

Afterall, remember who his direct boss is now.

posted by: Nick on October 21, 2011  2:59am

Completely agree with Streever and “R.”

It’s good that the cops are at the Green and keeping a sense of proportion. It’s ridiculous that, for over a year, a cop has been at the Yale renovations on High and Chapel, apparently doing nothing. In this case, it’s Yale that pays, not the City, but it is still a complete waste of money.

It’s also good to see Asst Ch. Velleca posting; I hope Chief Esserman will, when he joins.

posted by: City resident-City teacher on October 21, 2011  8:28am

Tom, I didn’t realize you were a resident of the City of New Haven, a payer of property taxes and a parent of children in the New Haven Public Schools.  I love New Haven too.  And my life choices prove it.

posted by: Moira on October 21, 2011  9:13am

Let the haters hate. It’s their specialty. But I, for one, totally agree with Streever, R and Nick. And it was nice to see Velleca weigh in, too.

posted by: streever on October 21, 2011  9:28am

I’d be surprised if New Haven doesn’t foot that bill, too—for years I’d been told by officials and read their comments that the police are paid by private contractors. I finally FOI’d an invoice and found that it is a line item billed back to us.

posted by: AC J. Velleca on October 21, 2011  9:33am

OK Bill, so my comment may appear to be politically motivated, but that is an opinion of someone who really doesn’t know just how apolitical I truly am (maybe Paul Bass could explain further).  I don’t try to “cozy-up” to anyone, and that will include the new chief.  I, like my brother and sister officers, try to do my job the best I can on a daily basis.  As for my comment, NHPD officers are constantly criticized for not “engaging the community.” In this instance, the NHPD officers have done that better than any other police department that is dealing with the Occupy Protests.  They deserve credit for that, so I gave them some.  So don’t be so cynical, it’s OK to give them a pat on the back once in a while, they appreciate it.  And remember, if you believe that the NHPD was on the forefront of community policing a short while ago, you should realize that it’s the rank and file officer that really implements those ideas.  Therefore, it makes no difference who the Chief is, or the Assistant Chief for that matter.  It’s the officers that make the difference (refer to above article).

posted by: Vinny G on October 21, 2011  10:50am

Streetver you have misguided thought towards the police on construction sites.  The city or state pays for the cost through the project with no OH&P.  So should we endager the men and women working nin a construction zone cause you say so.  ... So what about the other towns who use police officer for construction or state troopers did they support the mayors failed guvunatorial run as well?

posted by: streever on October 21, 2011  11:19am

Vinny G
Incorrect. Please, review the invoices submitted by contractors to the city for construction work. If you provide me an email address, I can even send you one.

When a street is CLOSED—literally barricaded—can you explain to me the danger that the workers are under? I have the invoices from Edwards & Livingston, can email them to you, and they include line item costs for the officers who were stationed there.

New Haven certainly did pay, and it is quite silly, because the road was barricaded at every end against traffic.

posted by: Viiny G on October 21, 2011  11:48am

Streever, I have been working in management for Heavy Civil / Heavy Highway contractors for 15 years.  I do what you “think is done daily”.  Please review your facts before you post.

posted by: ignoranceisbliss on October 21, 2011  12:02pm


Your dislike of the Mayor has gotten in the way of the facts.  State law requires the presence of cops on these jobs (that is why you see cops standing around in Branford and Milford and every other town) and the police unions will fight to the death to preserve that requirement because it boosts pay and pensions.

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 21, 2011  1:24pm

AC Velleca,

I totally appreciate your frankness and honesty. 

From my direct experience with the New Haven Police Department over the years, I have dealt with some really great officers and some truly bad ones.  If community policing has been alive and well over the last twenty years, it is news to me, and is fully eclipsed by some of the unmitigated harassment and insinuations I have experienced first hand by ‘New Haven’s Finest’.

And to put it all in a little more perspective, back when Community Policing was in it’s heyday, I was housemates with Andrew Michaelson, who worked as an Assistant to Chief Pastore, in the program’s implementation. 

Is there a difference between ‘then’ and ‘now’?  You bet there is.
Is it an election year? Yep.

If this comment falls short of an apology, I am sorry

posted by: Vinn G on October 21, 2011  2:03pm

Not true Streever, look at surrounding towns or CT DOT jobs.  Not the ones handed out to Johnnies faith-full.  What you are saying is a thing of the past.  It all changed in early 2003 with the changes implemented by CT DOT due to no payments to municipalities.  .

posted by: streever on October 21, 2011  2:17pm

I have a current invoice from work done this year on New Haven streets, paid by New Haven, with a line item for the police officers. How am I wrong? As I said, provide me an email, and I will forward to you. It is directly from Purchasing at City Hall.

posted by: The99pct. on October 21, 2011  3:33pm


I bring you news from the front…It is only a matter of days, perhaps only hours before New Haven’s finest, our “Peace Officers” lay down their night sticks and join with us in group consciousness and one-ness!  They have observed us through the wee hours in the cold mornings, and bear witness to our group of 40 revolutionaries armed only with Macbooks, IPads, and Gourmet Cappuccino…The Oppressed! 

Through our intense middle of the night human mic sessions with the cops, (and after a few hits on Karl’s bong) we are now convinced that 100% of the force in New Haven shares our vision of achieving anarchy. It is completely certain that once we start to break some store windows and burn a few cars, the police will join our Marxist army and help us crush capitalism! Who will be with me??!!

And when the lion lays down with the lamb, woe be to the corporate wolf.  - Isaiah 11:6

posted by: streever on October 21, 2011  4:22pm

Which law? All I’ve found are local union regulations New Haven, invoices from contractors to city hall citing the use of policemen, and the Mayor being quoted admitting that he has given our local union lucrative deals in order to secure their support in his governor run.

Perhaps the police contracts at construction aren’t a local phenomenon, but I’ve never seen 2 officers in the middle of a closed street in any of the other towns I’ve lived in.

If I’m wrong, please provide the same level of proof I’m willing to share. If there is a law, it must be on the books. Can you give me a section number to review?

posted by: Vinny G on October 21, 2011  5:28pm

Steever refer to Conn Dot form 816. The section for traffic men is an A item. You will need to procure job specific specification for a particular project.  Look under section 9.70.00.  This is always a revised item on the job specific specs.  Hopefully reading this will guide you in the right direction.

posted by: David Hasselhof on October 21, 2011  10:25pm

... Streever,

Let me break this down for you to hopefully clear some of your confusion. That invoice you have is for a job in which the city hired the company. Such jobs as sidewalk repair and road paving are hired and paid for by the city. So the actual construction company hires the cop, but obviously will charge the customer (the city) for that cost.  Now other companies such as UI, AT&T and the gas company are also the ones directly hiring the cop. But in those cases the city is not covering the cost, your electric bill is.  So sorry to hear you’re gealous that a cop standing on the side of the road makes more money than you, but you need to move on. And if you take the cop away from the barricaded closed road, someone will get out of their car, move the cones and drive directly into the workers.

posted by: Irrelevant on October 21, 2011  11:41pm

BARF! ACAB-FTP. The cops enforce the bottom line of the status quo. Their institutional requirements demand that they defend capital (private property) and the racist, sexist and classist state which rests upon the graves of massacred Indigenous people and people of color.

posted by: Che Buffett on October 22, 2011  8:39am

Its pretty ridiculous that Streever is this angry about cops hanging out lazily not fighting crime and getting paid for it on construction sites but thinks doing the exact same thing at this protest is valid. I also love his support for Velleca hanging out at work reading the newspaper instead of running the police force, guess all the crimes were solved already by 9:30am. This isn’t see click fix where our paid civil servants should be monitoring and (if relevant) commenting, this is the message board on the NHI which falls under the catagory of funsies.

posted by: streever on October 22, 2011  5:51pm

Che Buffet
I’m not “angry” but trying to put some perspective out there for Vinny who is angry about the police being at the protests.

Protests are an American right, folks—democracy works with active citizens. If the City feels that protesters are not safe without a police escort, it speaks volumes about the city and the way it has been run.

If the city feels that the protesters aren’t safe, so be it—then it is incumbent on us to protect their right to protest.

Vinny G
Thanks for posting some specifics—I’ll look those up. I appreciate it!

posted by: MH on October 22, 2011  6:38pm

In reply to R:

As a pedestrian, I’m glad to hear that there’s a uniformed zealot out there on the sidewalks enforcing the traffic laws. Maybe word will get around that when you put yourself on a bike, you cease to be a pedestrian and become a vehicle.

I find it hard to believe that anybody makes it to the age of eighteen without being told this at least once, and easy to believe that violators would protest to the enforcing officer and to their peers that they “didn’t know.” Naivete is no excuse for the law.

posted by: Nick on October 22, 2011  11:05pm

@ David Hasselhof:

You wrote, “So sorry to hear [Streever’s] gealous that a cop standing on the side of the road makes more money than [him]. And if you take the cop away from the barricaded closed road, someone will get out of their car, move the cones and drive directly into the workers.”

I think taxpayers have a right to be annoyed when their taxes are wasted. The policeman by the side of the road is pure economic deadweight. Despite what you think, people who drive in this town are not morons, and have common sense: they won’t “move the cones and drive directly into the workers.” From your logic, there should be policemen on every sidewalk to stop motorists from driving into pedestrians—but we’re not yet wasting that much money on the NHPD.

In the rare cases where the benefit of having a person on traffic lookout duty outweighs the cost, a non-policeman can do it. That would be much cheaper for the city, and make more sense: you don’t need a fully trained policeman to direct reversing trucks at a roadworks. It might even free up more police to go out on the beat.

posted by: Vinny g on October 23, 2011  12:15am

Streever no were in my post did I say I was angry with the police.  I simply asked if the group was paying for the police patrol.  No different then the st Patrick day parade or a road race, both organize and pay or a police detail.

posted by: streever on October 23, 2011  9:48am

It is totally different.

The protesters are not shutting down streets or asking for police—St Paddy’s day is shutting down streets, causing a hazard for emergency vehicles, which is why police need to be there.

The police don’t need to be on the green for the protesters—that is a decision that the city made.

The protesters are just exercising their constitutional right to free expression. They shouldn’t have to pay a dime. The city can pull the officers any time they want to.

posted by: Vinny G on October 23, 2011  11:33am

Streever the city tax payer should foot the bill.  Apparently the police are there for a reason. What’s the reason?  These officers could be best used else where in the city preventing crimes handing out motor vehicle violation tickets, etc.

posted by: Tom Burns on October 26, 2011  9:43pm

City resident-city teacher
are you serious?where I live shouldnt allow me to make positive comments about where I work???(or for that matter—on any subject) wow—so simple—so non-educational—I hope you are not really a city teacher for people like you with such myopic views should not be teaching our children——say it aint so??? or did you just make a mistake in your posting?? OK—Apologize—or leave our children to real professionals (certainly you could get a job elsewhere)no??

posted by: Eireann Young on October 31, 2011  6:52pm

I moved to Portland, OR nine years ago, but New Haven still has a place in my heart. I loved reading this article and I am so proud of my hometown Occupiers! Great to see so much maturity and open-mindedness, willingness to work with and not against those who have more power. The only way we win the battle of wealth and resource inequality is if we all work together peacefully. Good going! :)