Crowd Slams “Revolving Door Policing”

Allan Appel PhotosBrewing citywide frustration over the continual shuffling of top neighborhood cops boiled over in Fair Haven, where elected officials from throughout New Haven joined Fair Haven neighbors in blasting the latest reassignment of a district manager as an example of how “revolving-door policing” is replacing “community policing.”

The occasion was the monthly Fair Haven community management team meeting at the Blatchley Avenue substation. Management teams serve as the bedrock of the city’s 28-year-old community policing program, where neighbors interact and develop close working relationships with their assigned top cop.

The original purpose of Thursday night’s meeting was to bid a bittersweet farewell to Lt. David Zannelli —Fair Haven’s sixth district manager in seven years — and welcome his successor, ex-Downtown top cop Lt. Mark O’Neill. Department brass has reassigned Zannelli, who has made great strides in the neighborhood in 15 months and overseen celebrated police work, to head the internal affairs division.

Even as they embraced O’Neill, the room expressed a long-simmering pent-up anger at lack of consultation on the changing in district managers, and asked whether a high turnover jeopardizes progress. From Westville to Dixwell to Newhallville, neighbors throughout town have been watching district managers come and go.

The Fair Haven crowd also cited failures in communication, which residents fear, are turning NHPD practices into what one 40-year resident dubbed “revolving-door policing ... not community policing.”

Department Chief of Patrol Lt. Herb Sharp got that earful at the meeting and promised to convey the concerns to brass at 1 Union Ave.

The small community room at the Blatchley Avenue police substation was packed not only with residents but also Fair Haven and Wooster Square alders, leaders of the Board of Alders, and State Reps. Roland Lemar, Juan Candelaria, and Al Paollilo. Former mayoral candidate Justin Elicker showed up, too. The crowd numbered more than 50 people.

All that leadership was there to hail with warm words and cupcakes the achievements of Zannelli and welcome 19-year veteran O’Neill.

The legislative brass was also present because they expected either Chief Campbell or Assistant Chief Otoniel Reyes to be in attendance. They expected the chiefs to answer growing citywide concerns about the changing of district managers after short tenures, often without consultation with the local alders and teams, and the effect of all that on community policing. The two chiefs had prior engagements already, so they sent the next in command of patrol, Lt. Herb Sharp.

Another 15-Month Gig?

When a wave of recent retirements, a shortage of new officers, and a reconfiguration of the department recently resulted in a shuffling of the deck at police headquarters , including the promotion of Zannelli to head Internal Affairs, Fair Haveners protested.

Zannelli had communicated well with the management team, gotten to know local businesses, mentored new officers, and the lowering crime statistics showed it.

This yanking of a district leader just when dividends are paying off has become a pattern. This time Fair Haveners, like Peter Finch’s character in Network, decided they were mad as hell and not going to take it any more.

On Sept. 19 the Chatham Square Neighborhood Association wrote to Mayor Toni Harp asking that the decision to reassign Zannelli be reversed and that he allow to remain Fair Haven’s district manager.

“Why did no one from NHPD Central Office reach out before the decision was made?” wrote Chatham Square activist Lee Cruz and the other signers.

“Why does a city that boasts of its nationally recognized community policing program fail to include the community in such a monumental decision?” they wrote.

Cruz said has received no response to the letter.

Then on Sept. 24, Fair Haven Community Management Team Co-Chair David Steinhardt and other officers and members of the team wrote to Mayor Harp urging Campbell and Reyes to be present at Thursday night’s meeting, on the occasion of Zannelli’s departure and the introduction of O’Neill,  to discuss these issues.

A dozen alders citywide —many of whom are having problems with the short tenure and uncertainty of district manager assignments —were copied on the letter. They said they expected the chiefs to be there to hear their complaints and suggestions.

After tributes to Zannelli and a warm welcome to O’Neill, who has family roots in Fair Haven Heights, Lt. Sharp said the chiefs were unable to come, but they would in the near future. In the meantime, he concurred with the main beef he was hearing — that consistency in leadership in the district is crucial.

The shuffles have occurred because of manpower shortages, he said. Once those shortages are addressed, consistency will return, he promised. He also said he would convey the concerns to the chiefs and answer questions as best he could.

Fair Haven School teacher David Weinreb’s respectful yet skeptical remark, among the first Sharp fielded, caught the tenor of the evening: “I know that Lt. O’Neill is eligible to retire in 15 months,” Weinreb noted. Zannelli’s tenure also had been about 15 months. “It feels hard when you see a pattern. I believe that you [O’Neill] care, but actions need to show it.”

“In seven years we’ve gone through six [district managers]. That to me is not community policing. That’s revolving door policing,” said longtime activist Mary Ann Moran

“We need to have an ongoing conversation with the chiefs about this, ” said Sally Esposito, also a stalwart management team member.

“The chiefs will be here for you,” said Sharp.

“We were told,” said the management team co-chair Steinhardt,, “that he [Zannelli] would be here for three years.”

“I’m livid,” said Fair Haven Alder Jose Crespo. “Where’s the open door? I didn’t get a call from any chief, from anyone. I’m the elected representative here. You waited until the last minute. That’s B.S.”

Respectfully, Crespo asked how he could have trust at this point.

Alders Richard Furlow of West Hills/Amity/BeaverHills and David Reyes of the Hill, two leaders of the board, then spoke up. Reyes called the chief’s absence from the gathering an expresssion of disrespect.

Wooster Square Alder Aaron Greenberg said that he also had a major reassignment in his area without his hearing about it: “This is a citywide issue.”

Retirement Squeeze


“There have been big changes in five districts,” Sharp responded, “due to retirements. I’m not going to speak for the chief. He will. But I’m here with an open heart, and we are going to get back to community policing.” Uncertainty about the fate of health and pension benefits in the next union contract have helped propel a wave of retirements, in addition to job offers from higher-paying suburban districts.

Fair Haven Alder Kenneth Reviez said that Fair Haven is an epicenter of all kinds of problems. Zannelli has led the way through communication and bringing people together to seriously lowering crime stats, Reviez said. But quality-of-life issues remain huge challenges. “We’re at a point where we can turn around the quality of life issues here. Let’s not lose it,” he urged.

“We created four assistant chiefs,” State Rep. Paolillo, who as an alder took a lead in addressing policing issues, told Sharp, “in part so they could be out in the community. When a [management] team requests the presence of the chief, it’s the people [speaking]. When it’s radio silence, that’s serious. Last year, when promotions were made there was a promise of consistency of three years. You are a go-between” he concluded.

“I’ll pass it on,” said Sharp.

And so the evening went, with more appreciation for Zannelli, high hopes for O’Neill, and suggestions that perhaps sergeants again serve as district managers to ease some of the manpower issues. (The policy now is to assign lieutenants, whose ranks are stretched thin.)

Throughout it all was a profound skepticism and unease that Fair Haven, which has seen huge strides, is not getting its fair shake, and “community” in community policing is being taken for granted.

Steinhardt reminded Sharp that the management team in effect is a kind of mentor to each new district manager and that in the past had been involved in selection, but no longer. He called that an especially harmful oversight at this time in the neighborhood’s life.

“I’ll pass all your concerns to the chief and the assistant chief,” Sharp reiterated.

Then cupcakes with white frosting and a dash of sprinkles were brought out to be served up in honor of Zannelli and O’Neill, at the meeting’s end.

Campbell: “Domino Effect”

Markeshia Ricks PhotoIn a conversation Friday, Chief Campbell said he sympathizes with the crowd’s frustration. He shares it.

Until the city pays its officers more, it will continue, in the short term, to lose them, and department brass will have to fill gaps that keep opening, Campbell said.

When one or several high-ranking cops move, that creates a “domino effect,” Campbell observed.

Take the recent shuffle, for instance: Westville’s district manager, Elisa Tuozzoli, retired. So did a lieutenant running the records division, Darci Siclari. Lt. Renee Dominguez, who’d been running various districts over six years, put in for a change to a different kind of assignment after returning from a maternity leave. The top internal affairs spot opened up when Lt. Rose Dell was sent to run Westville’s district. Meanwhile, Dixwell’s top cop was arrested and put on leave after a domestic violence incident.

“Zannelli has done a phenomenal job in District 8. He formed great relationships. But with all the retirements and changes, I had to shuffle the department around,” Campbell said.

“The sad thing is this: There are going to be more changes. Come the end of this year, I’ve got lieutenants who can leave who are district managers. Until the department can stabilize with a contract, the more people that leave, it creates a domino effect.

“If we don’t create long-term incentives, these broken relationships are just going to continue. It doesn’t matter who the chief is. We have to address the elephant in the room: The cops don’t get paid enough. There’s not incentive enough for them to stay. So we shuffle and we do the best we can.”

Campbell said he “takes to heart” the community’s frustration about not just the shuffling around, but a lack of communication about some of the recent changes. He couldn’t attend Thursday night’s meeting because he had a previously scheduled engagement involving the Anti-Defamation League; he said he needed to be there to explain how the department was responding to some anti-Semitic incidents.

Next time, “I will definitely come in person” to explain leadership changes to the neighborhood and in general “communicate better” with all districts so neighbors can hear “directly from me,” Campbell said.

“I totally understand the community’s frustration: ‘I just formed a relationship with this person, and now they’re going. It’s like a break-up. Things are going well, and now you’re saying you’re not seeing me anymore.’”

Assistant Chief Reyes said he makes it a point to attend community meetings like Thursday night’s. He said he sent advance word about his inability to attend this one, and discussed the matter with officials who were planning to show up.

“We understand that change is difficult for our community,” Reyes said Friday. He said brass makes a point of notifying neighbors well in advance of changes in district managers, and affords management teams time to meet the new bosses before they move in.

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posted by: newhavenlives on October 5, 2018  12:32pm

I often wonder why anyone is foolish enough to become a public servant. Why should the officer’s career advancement be subject to the selfish needs of the people and the politicians in the room. What they should be advocating for is consistency in the level of service that is provided by any officer who takes on the position. What is the incentive to perform well if your greatest reward is to be stuck in a position where you are subject to perpetual complaints— albeit legitimate.

posted by: westville man on October 5, 2018  12:58pm

NH Lives-You aren’t serious, are you? All of the police and firefighters I know put their 20 years in and retired with a nice, immediate pension. Then they took a less stressful job (either part-time or full-time) and are living quite well. I don’t buy the “public servant” line anymore for career politicians, state and municipal workers. Most of them do better than the people they “serve”.

posted by: newhavenlives on October 5, 2018  1:24pm

Westville Man. (Insert face palm emoji) your jealousy is impeding your comprehension skills. If a talented officer is a good district manager and within the first 12 months of his or her assignment an amazing opportunity presents itself and the hireups determine that the officer should be promoted or reassigned, why should PD brass go out to get the approval of 30 folks in the neighborhood, the alder, the state rep, Tom, Dick and Harry before making a decision. There are too many damn fiefdoms in this city. We have got to start managing expectations here. I’ve seen officers chased out of these district manager positions because they had a personality clash with self imposed neighborhood chiefs who were either not very bright, sincere and/or well meaning. Give me a break with this constant pension envy.

posted by: JohnDVelleca on October 5, 2018  1:59pm

There are a variety of solutions to all of the problems being brought forward by the community.  However, the necessary solutions will not be popular among the officers.  Tough decisions need to be made and a major overhaul of the deployment philosophy and the patrol scheme of the department needs to occur in order to maintain the level of service expected by the community.  The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be anyone left in the command ranks that is willing to make, and own, unpopular decisions Leading the NHPD has become a popularity contest.  The situation will become worse, I assure you.  Also, remember that crime is at historically low levels right now.  Therefore, there should not be all of this administrative dysfunction.  I hope the PD gets itself together because if crime suddenly spikes and the administrative operations are in disarray, it will not be pretty.  Jobs and elections will be lost…

posted by: westville man on October 5, 2018  2:15pm

NH Lives-  read my post.  I didn’t disagree with you on the issue of reassignment. It was your “wonderment” on why folks become so-called public servants.  They do it for the $$, for the pensions and medical benefits for life.  If they were really altruistically serving the public they wouldn’t leave after 20 years. 

As for jealousy,  I’m doing quite well, thanks, with my retirement. But it is tough to stomach supporting all these “public servants’ for 30-40 years of their retirement after 20 yrs of service.

posted by: SpecialK on October 5, 2018  2:42pm

Don’t worry Newhavenlives, nobody is going to have pension envy once binding arbitration is all said and done.

posted by: wendy1 on October 5, 2018  4:23pm

Yes there is quite a shuffle and my solution is to get to know as many officers, officials, politicians, etc. as I can.  Recently I lucked out and was reassigned Sean Maher for Wooster Sq.  I have no problem with good pensions for police that survive their required time.  We should all have safety nets.  I agree some civil servants work harder than others but that’s life.  Read MONSTER CITY.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on October 5, 2018  6:56pm

Newhavenlives, the issue is continuity. My most recent district manager, Lt. Dominguez, has been extraordinarily conscientious and accessible.  But she had only been assigned to the district for a bit more than a year, I’ve been involved with my management team and it’s predecessor for over 20 years; I can’t recall a district manager being in place more than three years. It takes years for a district manager to fully understand a neighborhood and its issues. Community policing can’t function effectively if she or he is switched out every year or so.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 5, 2018  7:33pm

What happen with this?
Cop’s Discrimination Complaint Upheld

New Haven police reassigned a sergeant running the East Shore district because an alder there objected to having a Latino in charge of the neighborhood, a state human rights agency has concluded.

posted by: elmcitybornandraised on October 6, 2018  7:24am

@newhavenlives thank you for speaking reality, it’s a hard pill to injest @westville man I appreciate you bringing up the past. That is not the current case anymore for public servants. Pensions are no longer viable and most cities (not all) have moved away from pensions. Most are not sustainable currently. Now currently we expect public servants (that I remind you, many live amongst us) to wear a multitude of hats, juggle many more different responsibilities and still endure public criticism, some warranted some not. So what do most inner city officers in C.T. (Waterbury, Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven specifically) receive? Horrible contracts (or no contract currently correct?), sky rocketing health insurance rates, less equipment, poor conditioned vehicles and unsure horribly politically motivated leadership smh. The comments on the Independent continue to amaze me…..

It’s called the current state of law enforcement folks, employee’s retire, get injured, resign and receive termination for poor or horrendous decision making. It’s one of the toughest professions to be involved in, it’s never easy in any jurisdiction especially an inner city. This will become common practice, older veterans that would have stayed a decade ago for 25 years will leave right when they hit 20 years. Younger officers with thoughts of grandeur of saving the world will realize it’s really much tougher than they thought it was. The work load is constant and immense, issues are consistent with being understaffed, morale being low is realized….then they flee….they go to another town with less work, higher pay, very low crime and life is good.

The “revolving door” as stated in the article will continue…..your requests of the Chiefs and the Mayor does NOT change the reality of what they are dealing with staff wise. You want to keep your district managers? Fight for them to come to a better workplace that the city you live in and it’s administration apparently doesn’t care about.

posted by: elmcitybornandraised on October 6, 2018  7:33am

I also will agree with former Chief Velleca that and I quote, “The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be anyone left in the command ranks that is willing to make, and own, unpopular decisions Leading the NHPD has become a popularity contest.” That is also reality and fact. Can our leaders own a firm decision? I’m speaking of the brass and Mayor in particular….I guess time will tell. Everyone can’t always be happy and you can’t please everyone….this city is too political.  It’s nauseating….can we just get back to PURE ACCOUNTABILITY and CONSISTENT and proper decision making???

I guess the next six months will really tell….let’s hope crime doesn’t rise again….

posted by: Guillermo798 on October 6, 2018  8:31pm

Kevin McCarthy is on point.  I’ve worked for both Fortune 100 companies and law enforcement.  It takes an effective manager a year to evaluate the needs of their area and their subordinates.  Effective managers then begin to implement the changes they determine will improve the end result.  A manager can force the change immediately, by a direct order or new policy, and memo the command staff with “look what I’ve done.”  An effective manager will show his/her subordinates how the changes will benefit them, make them more effective, and benefit the customers/citizens they serve.  The down side is this takes time.  Lastly is the evaluation of the changes.  Did they make real and measureable differences?  You have to evaluate at least a year’s results.  Bottom line…three years minimum in a position of responsibility.
A manager in the position for 12 to 18 months, makes quick, uneducated changes, and memos the command staff with “look what I’ve done”.  The changes are forced down to the rank and file, without any real evaluation.  12 to 18 months later the manager is transferred.  When the changes fail, the new manager says “hey, they weren’t my policies”.  New changes are quickly instituted and the “look what I’ve done” memo goes upstairs.  A doomed system is perpetuated…ineffective changes, policies forced down on the rank and file, little or no real evaluation.
Sadly, command staffs believe this is the way to expose managers to as many different areas of responsibility as possible in a short of period of time.  Managers can then tout how qualified they are for the next promotion without measuring their ability to effect positive change.  Who benefits…Officers that want to be Sergeants, Sergeants that want to be Lieutenants…all the way to The Chief of Police.  The cycle never ends.  If only we voters would elect effective managers, rather than politicians, to run our governments.  Maybe, we would get real value for our tax dollars.

posted by: dad101 on October 7, 2018  12:41pm

Wow!Its ironic that district managers recognize how the turn around of officers effcts continuity..Has anyone counted how many chiefs and assistant chiefs have come thru NEW HAVEN in the past 20 years? It takes a good five years for a chief to implamament their idea and agendas. To establish relationships with the community as well officers and that’s if they came thru the department. New haven has plucked from outside on several occasions in addition to from within. Each time while undergoing contractual changes, city leadership changes both in personnel and agendas. ALL of which has a trickle down effect. Civil servants are HUMAN beings..LIVES change, Exhaustion happens, growth opportunities occur both from with in and externally. These civil servants also have families, THose family dynamics change..How about the fact that they too realise that the responsibility of a district manager is grossly differant than what they may have been doing The commitments are extremely differant. Yes in fairy tale land the same person may being there for many years seems desirable but it isnt realistic.Changes in style ideas and experience is also a means to growing a community. Officers are coming in with degress and are looking to expand being a districyt manager sounds like a stepping stone..Embrace that you arent just getting someone no one else wants each manager coming thru has been someone with much to offer. Administrators have to look at a balancing act of many more features than an individual community leader does so you cant always get who or what you want unless you are in COVE.

posted by: fcastle1984 on October 8, 2018  11:20pm

@ dad101… I had a hard time understanding what you wrote. A lot of typos. Also, if you’re suggesting being in the Cove is a good assignment, I would disagree. The people in the Cove tend to have more money. With money comes political connections. If you ever want to meet a bigger bunch of @** h****, just find someone with money who is self important. A good assignment is probably a poor neighborhood: no one cares about them, they only pretend to.

They all call their hookup to try and influence…but what do I know, I digress.