Anticipating that they won’t get extra time to solve a new prisoner lock-up challenge, New Haven police are looking to the suburbs for help as one of several alternatives to returning to the “prisoner management business.”
Police Chief Dean Esserman spoke about that Tuesday night while updating the Board of Police Commissioners about the department’s response to the decision by the state Judicial Department to cease operating the prisoner detention facility at 1 Union Ave. as of July 1 because of budget cuts.
Both New Haven and Hartford, which faces the same challenge, have asked the state to delay the move for up to six months so they have more time to plan.
It appears likely that the state will not say yes, Esserman told commissioners at their monthly meeting Tuesday night at police headquarters.
So in the short term, if that answer indeed comes back as no, the department will have to staff the lock-up on its own with cops.
Looking long term, the city does not want to return to the “prisoner management” that the city turned over to the state Judicial Department in 1993. The department wants to find alternatives.
Esserman met with Hamden and West Haven police chiefs Wednesday to discuss whether in the short term New Haven can book arrestees but transport them to excess space in those towns’ lock-ups. They also discussed whether the region longer term could use a regional facility.
“These budget cuts by the state are affecting local jurisdictions like New Haven and the metropolitan region significantly” and are prompting regional solution-seeking, Esserman.
Operating the 1 Union Ave. lock-up on its own could cost New Haven$2 million a year.
Before the meeting Wednesday, Hamden Police Chief Thomas Wydra told the Independent that he’s intrigued with the idea.
He’d have to run it by his mayor and other officials, but he’s in theory open to accepting prisoners at the modern facility his town has built and collaborating on regional solutions long-term, he said.
“I’m absolutely in favor of having the conversation. I believe that prisoner management is another area of many where we should be looking to gain efficiency, reduce costs, through regionalization,” Wydra said.
The Hamden detention facility has a total 20 cells for adult male and female and for juvenile arrestees. Some days only a few cells are occupied, according to Wydra; other days as many as 15 are.
Meanwhile, the New Haven assistant chief who had been overseeing the planning for the lock-up change, Anthony Campbell, is being transferred to a new assignment, as assistant chief in charge of patrol. (He’s replacing Al Vazquez, who retired this month as assistant chief in charge of patrol.)
Another possible solution is to restrict the source of prisoners. Currently the lock-up hosts people from southern Connecticut, Yale University, Amtrak and Metro North. The department is considering whether to leave out those agencies.
With an average of 15-20 arrests every day, assigning police officers to lock-up duties would exert great staffing pressure on the department, he said.
“We are not going to stop making arrests.” Esserman told commisoners.
The state marshals have run the lock-up since 1993.
A plan to house prisoners at the state jail on Whalley Avenue ended up not proving feasible. Among other reasons, the facility accepts only male prisoners, which means female arrestees would need to be transported to the prison in Niantic, Campbell said last week.
Campbell said that if the New Haven department does end up operating the lock-up, it would spend close to $40,000 a week, or close to $2 million a year, to run the lock up by employing 38-45 officers on overtime weekly duty to man the facility in six-person shifts. He said the understaffed department has to rely on overtime because it has no officers to spare from regular duty.
Esserman opened Tuesday night’s meeting with an update on reaction to the mass shooting Sunday in Orlando, Florida. Local police have been in touch with the FBI, which reported that no serious threats have surfaced in Connecticut. Esserman added that his department has deployed more force to ensure safety during the International Festival of Arts & Ideas.