Cop Task Force Gets In The Weeds

Markeshia Ricks PhotoHow much marijuana is too much marijuana for a potential police officer to have smoked? Does it matter if it was a half a joint two years ago or 12 months ago?

And should it matter if a potential officer has smoked weed in the past if the police department has no way of knowing if current cops partake in such activity?

Those were among the thorny questions raised by members of a task force on community and police relations as they prepare recommendations for improving the recruitment and retention of minority police officers.

The recommendations, which will ultimately go to the mayor and the Board of Police Commissioners, are part of a second phase of the task force’s work. In mid-July, the task force — put together by the mayor after a controversial arrest of a teenager outside the St. Patrick’s Day Parade — delivered its first set of recommendations for improving community-police relations in the city. Some of those recommendations included training that emphasizes deescalation and arrest diversion, and requiring officers to report misconduct by other officers. (Read more about the report here.)

Now the members are looking to make suggestions that they hope will influence the demographics of the police department so that it might one day look like the citizens it serves.

The task force plans to request information about the more than 1,500 people who applied to become New Haven police officers in time to be a part of Class 21. Of those applicants 350 were minority. Only four black applicants were accepted. Task force members are seeking a breakdown by race of who was rejected and what factors kept them from being selected.

Task Force members Miguel Pittman and the Rev. Steven Cousin drafted a preliminary set of recommendations that a small contingency of the task force discussed at a meeting Thursday evening.

That’s when the question about marijuana came up. The recommendations suggest that the current policy is outdated and doesn’t reflect the changing status of marijuana use now that efforts to decriminalize or legalize it have picked up steam around the country.

Out of 248 people on the current civil service hiring list, 25 “did not continue due to drug policy violation, specifically marijuana,” said Assistant Chief Luiz Casanova.

“An applicant currently will not be considered if he/she has smoked marijuana [in] the past two years and exceeded the allotted amount,” notes the new task force draft recommendation. “An applicant may not have smoked marijuana in the past two years, but will not be considered because they have exceeded the amount in their past. An updated policy should state that an applicant did not smoke marijuana in the past year.”

Task Force Co-Chair Leroy Williams pressed for a more specific recommendation. Should use in 24 months be a disqualifying criterion if the applicant is honest about their last use and how much they used?

“I guess I am kind of confused on the marijuana thing,” task force member Barbara Fair said. “How would anyone have marijuana in their system after two years anyway?”

Pittman, who has attempted to join the police department over the last four years, said it’s one of the questions on the polygraph test. He suggested that New Haven could follow Hartford’s lead and change the standard from 24 months marijuana free to 12 months.

“The question is not the marijuana,” co-chair Williams added. “The question is lying. It’s not the marijuana. It’s the lie. If you just tell the truth and be clean for the last 24 months, you’re fine.”

But task force member Rodney Williams noted that the department doesn’t randomly drug test to make sure that once people become cops that they don’t use drugs.

“It should be a hurdle, but not as high as they have it right now,” he said. “We probably have cops on the police department right now smoking weed.”

Task Force member Anstress Farwell said she worries less about someone getting high on marijuana and was more concerned that once that person becomes a cop, the dealer they bought the marijuana from might use that relationship against the cop.

“Could that affect the performance on the force,” she asked. “Could that drug dealer ... use the fact that he sold something illegally to an officer as a way of manipulating that officer?”

Task Force member Donald Walker said the reality is while marijuana possession might be decriminalized locally, it’s still considered a federal crime. He also said that if someone working for him was a regular marijuana user, especially at a job where security and good judgment are an issue, “I’m not real thrilled about you getting high when I’m paying you.”

“I’m more concerned about that than what you were doing two years ago,” added task force member Barbara Fair

“Since you brought that up, does that exist on police force now?” Rodney Williams asked. “Is there testing for marijuana? I think since you opened that up, I don’t see why we as a task force can’t recommend that if weed can’t get you in, then you shouldn’t be smoking it once you’re in. There should be periodically testing who exactly is smoking weed.”

Co-Chair Leroy Williams recommended that members do a bit more research on what other departments like Hartford are doing when it comes to the drug use question and find out what is the current policy around substance abuse and active police officers.

Looking Local

Additional recommendations under consideration include creating a partnership with a local health care center like Cornell Scott-Hill. That would allow police academy applicants who don’t have health insurance to cover the cost of the physical exam and blood work that would-be cops have to have done before they can take the agility test. Another recommendation would give extra points, anywhere from 5 to 15, to applicants who are New Haven residents.

Another way suggested that applications could be weighted in favor of New Haveners would be to give points to would-be-cops who participate in the police department’s citizen academy and attend management team meetings.

Task Force members affirmed the police department’s own recommendation to have applicant background checks outsourced to a third party. Members suggested in preliminary recommendations that the department also consider looking for a new firm to conduct the psychological portion of the process. The same firm has been conducting that process for the last decade, according to Pittman.

Sheeva Williams-Nelson, a New Haven resident who attended the meeting Thursday, suggested that any current or future firm that handles the psychological portion of the process should be thoroughly vetted particularly for cultural competency.


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posted by: MagnetSchoolMom on August 16, 2016  2:32pm

But task force member Rodney Williams noted that the department doesn’t randomly drug test to make sure that once people become cops that they don’t use drugs.

“It should be a hurdle, but not as high as they have it right now,” he said. “We probably have cops on the police department right now smoking weed.”

Mr. Williams, where are you obtaining your information from. ALL police officers serving in New Haven are required to take random drug testing at any given time.

Giving extra points to applicants is never a good idea. You never get the most qualified for the job.  We need to stop trying to manipulate the system in order to make the police department “one day look like the citizens it serves.” I could care less what a person looks like when I am in need of a police officer, fire fighter or EMT. I want the BEST QUALIFIED person protecting me. Would you want a surgeon who only received a 75% on their medical exam, but was given an extra 15 points because they live in NH, bringing their score to a 90%, operating on you. HELL NO! Let’s not lower the bar, we should be raising the bar when it comes to public safety.

You should take a look at how many workers in NH have received extra point because they lived in NH and then moved out of town after receiving he job! I bet the number would surprise you.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on August 16, 2016  2:36pm

We all know my answer to that question :) Should cop applicants be rejected if they’ve smoked mairjuana?
NO absolutely should not make a bit of differents! Should cop applicants be rejected if they drink?? Because drinking is far worse than smoking!  I just want to say a big BRAVO! for this one!!

Personally if Malloy was not such a stiff shirt it would be legalized in this state already!  I say Harp legalizes it in New Haven!

posted by: IloveMYcity203 on August 16, 2016  3:09pm

Part 1:

If you have officers who reflect the community that they police and who can truly relate to the resident(s), then what you will see is less people getting arrested and more officers getting down to the common denominator of why this stuff is happening in the first place and coming up with a solution to keep people from getting arrested and/or committing more serious crimes.

Lastly, some people need to be behind bars; however, locking everyone is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, which is one of the many reasons why people get out of jail and go right back to committing crimes again. You have to remove the roots if you don’t want the tree to grow again. Now apply that logic to someone who keeps getting arrested.

NOTE: I wrote this on another article, so I am glad to see this being discussed.

posted by: concerned_neighbor on August 16, 2016  3:13pm

This is a recipe for disaster.

Look at DC. DC was under a consent decree to diversify the police force. They reduced the education requirements, they relaxed the background checks, they reduced the drug usage bar and what did they get, more than a decade of officer involved shootings (mostly black cops on black residents), excessive force and other misconduct. Some DC officers worked for the drug gangs, for example.

Today everyone wants to hold police officers to higher standards based on perceived abuses of power and they complain when legal doctrines like qualified immunity protect all but the plainly incompetent and those who knowingly violate the law. Tomorrow, when cops are on the streets with weaker credentials (and perhaps many who are minorities) will they be so quick to dismiss doctrines like qualified immunity as many call for today?

posted by: IloveMYcity203 on August 16, 2016  3:13pm

Part 2:

If the City of New Haven wants to know the real reason why there are not a lot of minority officers read below.

If you want to know why people are failing. Look at the amount of minorities (black, Hispanic, Asian, other) and New Haven residents who apply, then research how many of those minorities and NH residents get conditional offers. Thought I was done? Nope! Now check to see how far they got in the process. What you will see is that most of them are failing at the psychiatrist. Keep in mind, in order to see the psychiatrist, you have to pass a psychological exam that is 850+ questions. If you fail the psych exam, you do not get to see the psychiatrist. Once you make it this far, that means you have passed the background interview (a series a questions that must be answered from a 15-25 page booklet, polygraph, and the psychological exam. If the psychiatrist passes you (writes up a report giving you the “okay” to proceed”), then you go on to the medical and your references are called. The psychiatrist has all the power. They only talk to you for 15 minutes (some times the questions have nothing to do with the psychiatric evaluation or the psych exam) and they write up reports about candidates that are often untrue, but no one is going to challenge the psychiatrist because he is the psych doctor, so they don’t want to get it wrong and push someone through. I can almost guarantee if the City of New Haven does a study of all the candidates who applied and did not make it, they will all have one thing in common. They failed the psychiatrist. How do you pass the psych exam of 850+ questions, then you meet the Dr. and he fails you. If the psychiatrist was so correct, then why do officers fail one town or city and get hired for the next? psychiatrist are like assessors. Each one will have a different opinion. My point, DO NOT just rely on one opinion and the same one who has been failing NH candidates for years.

posted by: IloveMYcity203 on August 16, 2016  3:18pm

Part 3:

Yes. I am a New Haven resident. Yes. I took the test several times. Each time I got a conditional offer and made it to the end like most New Haven residents, but failed the psychiatrist. The information and report given to your investigator isn’t verified by your references, people you know, previous employers etc. They just fail you because the psychiatrist, who is supposed to know you well only from talking to you for 15 minutes, writes up some crazy report. I’m glad that this is being looked into because there is a problem, and nobody wants to speak out. Cops technically don’t have a voice, so nobody wants to be “that” person. Stay on them Paul Bass! After talking to all of the candidates, you will be astonished at why people were denied. I personally do not have any problems sharing my files AT ALL! The city needs to know what is going on and being swept under the table!!!!!!!

posted by: IloveMYcity203 on August 16, 2016  3:25pm


Extra points for New Haven residents are only added after you have successfully passed the written and oral exam. So you have to have a passing score that averages out to 70 before the points are applied. This last process was done differently (both test just had to average to a passing score). So you were able to fail one (but not by too much) and pass another and still pass.

The written test are basic information anyway. It’s not rocket science questions for any department. It’s common sense stuff. Also a written test DOES NOT determine whether that person will make a good officer. A written test ABSOLUTELY does not teach compassion, integrity, trust, loyalty and so on and so forth.

posted by: nero on August 16, 2016  3:58pm

Awarding extra points for New Haven residents does indeed ensure a better qualified candidate. Law enforcement officers should be a part of the communities they police. Don’t want to live in New Haven because you might not like your neighbors or the neighborhood? Well I sure don’t want you policing my neighbors or neighborhood. You don’t live in New Haven because your spouse works elsewhere or you have deep roots elsewhere—then apply for a job there. Community policing begins with police who are deeply woven into the fabric of the community. There’s just no way around it.

posted by: Ex-NHPD on August 16, 2016  4:04pm

The article states that this Task Force was put together by Mayor Harp.  Did she select the members of the Task Force?  If not, who did?

I ask this because I’m trying to understand who thought that someone, who stated the following, in front of 700 people and the press on the New Haven Green on July 8, 2016, was a good choice to serve on the Task Force:

“I have seven sons.  We say we don’t know when the hour comes.  The hour comes for me when one of them pigs do something to my child.  I salute those mothers who can somehow carry on—-you take my child, and I want you to hear it around the world.  You take mine and you will not sit around the station and tell your story.  Because I’m gonna go completely off.  You wanna take my child’s life?  Your life is gone, too.  You better believe.  O mean it to the bottom of my heart, to my bones and my soul.  And when I say my sons, I mean my grandsons too.  Don’t even try it.”

This was not taken out of context.  It was the complete quote attributed to Barbra Fair in the NHI article “Whose Streets? Our Streets!” of 7-8-16.

There are also Task Force Members who don’t understand the process of securing acceptance to the NHPD and what NHPD members are subjected to.

When Task Force member(s) can not get the facts straight, and has member(s) who have animus to Police Officers in general, and the NHPD specifically, they will have great difficult in attaining the status and standing to be seen as a legitimate entity to making changes to the hiring and retention of NHPD members.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 16, 2016  5:06pm

posted by: MagnetSchoolMom on August 16, 2016 3:32pm

Giving extra points to applicants is never a good idea. You never get the most qualified for the job.

Not true.In fact across this country you have Veteran’s Preference Points that are added to the passing examination score.

Members suggested in preliminary recommendations that the department also consider looking for a new firm to conduct the psychological portion of the process. The same firm has been conducting that process for the last decade, according to Pittman.

True in fact across this country this is a big problem for people of color.

Black Police Applicant Frustrated by Opaque Hiring Process

White applicants, who are far more likely than their black counterparts to have relatives, friends and neighbors on the force, often know someone who can help navigate the bureaucracy. By contrast, many African-Americans end up dropping out of the application process, police officials say.

posted by: T-ski1417 on August 16, 2016  5:06pm

Pittman and Fair on the same board that oversees the hiring process of police officers is like allowing drug dealers to pick their judges.

Total Joke. Another stellar move from our incompetent Mayor.

posted by: T-ski1417 on August 16, 2016  7:52pm

I forgot, the police department has had random drug testing for quite some time

I truly believe that the Mayor must have been smoking weed to appoint the clowns that are on this “committee”

posted by: Hill North on August 17, 2016  5:14am


Pittman and Fair on the same board that oversees the hiring process of police officers is like allowing drug pick their judges.

Your analogy regarding Pittman and Fair was so far off that it makes you look like an misinform person.

Regarding random drug test. Yes it’s done in the NHPD. But the problem is. If you are partt of the good ol’ boy network. You will get a phone from your network and they will tell you that your number or name was pulled and not to show up for work the next day or sign up for rehabilitation. It happens all the time in NHPD.

posted by: Hill North on August 17, 2016  5:36am


I read some of your comments in the past. Reach out to Pittman since he’s a member of the Community Relations Police Task Force. Maybe your story could be a model why the hiring process for the NHPD is corrupt.

Reach one teach one

posted by: alphabravocharlie on August 17, 2016  8:58am

Riddle me this: if you hire rule breakers what do you get?

posted by: T-ski1417 on August 17, 2016  9:42am


Explain how??

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on August 17, 2016  9:44am

If they want to test cops for something, it ought to be steroid use. ROID RAGE is a serious threat to the community, casual drug use? No so much!

posted by: Ex-NHPD on August 17, 2016  10:28am

Hill North’s claim that the NHPD Random Drug Test Policy is consistently circumvented does not pass the smell test of truth.

HN’s post does not seem to have the correct details on how the process works.  HN wrote:
“If you are partt (sic) of the good ol’ boy network.  You will get a phone from your network and they will tell you that your number or name was pulled and not to show up for work the next day or sign up for rehabilitation.”

It does not work that way.  By not knowing whether a number or name is “pulled”, it shows HN or HN’s source is unfamiliar with the process.  HN or HN’s source is also wrong to claim that when a member of the NHPD is selected for a Random Drug test, it is done the day before that person is ordered to comply.

Finally, IF the Random Drug Test is circumvented “all the time”, one would think someone involved in the process would notice that an unusual number of randomly selected people were booking off sick to avoid the test.  So, if it is happening all the time, either the people involved in implementing the process are incredibly incompetent, in on the conspiracy, or the NHPD is not really concerned with their members going on duty while using drugs.

I have no problem with any one who comments and criticizes the NHPD.  My problem is when critics rely on things they have been told and accept without question.  Having spent over 25 years at the NHPD, more than half that time as a Supervisor, I can not count how many times claims about the NHPD and how they do business were untrue.  Some were malicious, to try to harm the NHPD.  Some were stories that were told over and over until the person repeating it had no connection to the original source.  If HN’s source is a member of NHPD who has participated in avoiding the Random Drug Test, I question their veracity and why they would want to boast about it.

posted by: Hill North on August 17, 2016  12:23pm


It does not work that way.  By not knowing whether a number or name is “pulled”, it shows HN or HN’s source is unfamiliar with the process.  HN or HN’s source is also wrong to claim that when a member of the NHPD is selected for a Random Drug test, it is done the day before that person is ordered to comply.

Let me be clear. The officer is due to work that day. He receive a phone call warning him that he’s on the radar for a drug test. The officer calls out. Now how wide spread it is within the department. I don’t know. But it’s happening. If the department really want to get to the bottom of the breach.  They could look at the pattern and conform that it does exist within the department.

Just because someone is willing to share information about the department. Does mean that they are boasting about the good ol’ boy network.

Reach one teach one.

posted by: robn on August 17, 2016  10:23pm

This committee is potentially writing a guideline for incompetence and it doesn’t surprise me considering that it includes people like Ms Fair who has a long history of hostility towards law enforcement.

Bottom line…

If somebody want a career in writing laws, they should get a law degree and then run for office.

If somebody wants to be a cop, they should be prepared to both follow and enforce the laws on the books.

posted by: alphabravocharlie on August 18, 2016  9:56am

Recruiting and selection are entirely different things. Recruiting essentially refers to marketing policing in such as way as to attract qualified candidates. Selection is much more highly regulated. The State of Connecticut, through the Police Officer Standards and Training Council (POSTC). The basic requirements are: be a citizen of the United States; be at least 21 years of age; be a high school graduate or have passed the General Educational Development Test; possess a valid motor vehicle operator’s license; have passed a validated written entry test; have been tested by an oral interview panel with at least one CT POST Council certified police officer on the panel; have been fingerprinted and a search made of fingerprint files for any record; not have been convicted by a court of any felony, any class A or class B misdemeanor or have committed any act which would constitute perjury or false statement; have been the subject of a background investigation; have been the subject of a polygraph examination (by POST Council approved polygraph examiners only); have been subject of a psychological examination; have not tested positive on a controlled drug screen; have been examined and certified by a Council accepted method as fit to perform the duties of a probationary candidate police officer (or a lateral transfer of a certified officer); have met all physical fitness requirements; have personally certified knowledge that any falsification of any statement in the application process constitutes grounds for termination. There is very little wiggle room for employers in the process. The allegations of bias in psychological testing is interesting and should be explored further to see whether that is the case.