Candidates Differ On Speed Limit, Narc Unit

Second of four parts on where mayoral candidates stand on major issues.

One candidate caught up with the teen who stole his bike; one had his car window smashed after shooing away a drug-user from in front of his home. Another candidate was caught breaking the law himself. All drew lessons about crime in New Haven.

The four candidates running for mayor in next Tuesday’s Democratic mayoral primary—Kermit Carolina, Justin Elicker, Henry Fernandez, and Toni Harp—spoke about those lessons and about police and fire policy in general in four separate interviews with the Independent.

They all continued to express confidence in Police Chief Dean Esserman’s quest to return community policing to New Haven and a desire to take it to the next level. They all expressed skepticism of the so-called War on Drugs.

They offered some different takes on reducing the speed limit and reestablishing a narcotics unit, among other questions, and told different personal stories about their own encounters with crime.

Here’s what they said:

Do we have too many fire stations? Too many firefighters? Do you plan to close any fire stations? Cut the number of firefighters?

Fernandez: Wants to evaluate the data before committing to a firm answer. Our current numbers of firehouses and firefighters are “based on a time before we had smoke detectors” and better building codes, and thus a time when we had more fires. “We should always be willing to evaluate whether there are ways to cut costs in the fire department” while never compromising public safety.

Harp: No.

Carolina: Yes, “if we can do it without sacrificing” public safety. “I’d like to spearhead the effort to work with our regional partners” to share some fire services with suburban departments. He recently spoke with the mayor of Grand Rapids, Michigan, during a visit there, about a pending effort to save $17 million a year through sharing services with suburban towns.

Elicker: Would “explore” changing minimum manning requirements if safety isn’t compromised; seek more “efficiencies” in the department. That doesn’t have to mean closing a fire station. It could mean eliminating a fire engine, for instance. He would also explore some form of consolidation with East Haven for the work handled by the Morris Cove station, which has the lowest volume of calls but is too far away from other stations to close down altogether; he would not shut down the station.

Do you support reducing the speed limit to 20 miles per hour on residential streets?

Fernandez: Yes.

Harp: No. “If you do that, people will be speeding.” At the current 25 mile-per-hour speed limit, “everybody is basically doing 35 to 40. I think having rules for rules’ sake is a mistake; we would solve a lot of problems by enforcing the current speed limit. When is the last time anyone you know got a moving violation? We don’t enforce half the laws on our books. You go to Woodbridge. You’re going out [Route] 69. It’s easy to go over the speed limit. There’s a policeman sitting in a certain place; he will get you.”

Carolina: Yes. “Twenty is plenty.” Would also like to see more speed bumps “in neighborhoods like Newhallville.”

Elicker: Yes.

One candidate [Harp] has proposed bringing back a dedicated narcotics unit. Do you support that idea? Why or why not? How does that fit into community policing?

Police Chief Esserman dismantled the department’s tactical narcotics unit in 2012 after he took over the department with a mission to reenergize community policing. He combined it with the intelligence unit. Police still conduct many drug investigations, in conjunction with shooting and other investigations.

Fernandez: Prefers the current combination of narcotics with intelligence. “Far too many people are incarcerated under the War on Drugs.” Violence “should be our first priority. We absolutely need to tackle narcotics. We need to do in a series of smarter ways” like boosting youth employment and after-school programs.

Harp: We need a dedicated narcotics unit. “It does comport with community policing. You have to have a specific unit that does that. Part of what drives the violence in our town is still unfortunately the dealing of drugs. That unit has to integrate with what’s happening on the street with walking beats.”

Carolina: “My focus is on guns. Drugs are on the list; it’s not at the top. I’m concerned about the gangs. I would be very concerned about continuing this practice of locking up young people, in particular African-American males, to execute the drug war.” He also supports instituting gang injunctions; read about that here.

Elicker: That’s up to the chief. “I want to be a mayor who” gives department heads the room to make those decisions.

Do you agree with the New York federal judge’s recent ruling that stop-and-frisk practices are racist? Should we do stop-and-frisk in New Haven?

(Read about that ruling here.)

Fernandez: Agrees with ruling. Opposes stop-and-frisk. “When I first came to New Haven I was stopped and frisked multiple times. I found it to be humiliating. I didn’t do anything wrong. It impacted my impression of police in a significant way. We want young people to have positive relationships with police” so they feel more comfortable reporting crimes and serving as witnesses in criminal cases. That’s part of a broader emphasis Fernandez has put on “legitimacy” policing, to ensure citizens have positive impressions of the most routine interactions with cops.

Harp: Agrees with decision. Opposes instituting stop-and-frisk.

Carolina: Agrees with ruling. Opposes stop-and-frisk. It’s racist.

Elicker: Agrees with ruling. Opposes stop-and-frisk. But “the reality is that a lot of stuff we already do is a form of stop-and-frisk. The police department has a lot of tools” to pull people over or search them. Cops should receive sensitivity training to ensure no one’s civil rights are violated in the process. 

Do you agree with the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision to stop seeking minimum mandatory sentences for drug offenses?

Read about the decision here.

Fernandez: Agrees with decision. A “huge amount” of money devoted to many of these cases could be better spent on mass transit and public education and tax relief.

Harp: Agrees with the decision. “We’re just dealing with penny-ante low-level dealers. It just costs us money and doesn’t fix anything.” She questions whether Operation Bloodline, the 2012 federal-state-local sweep of dealers, truly snared as many higher-level dealers as advertised; “I don’t think the flow of drugs has changed enough on our streets.”

Carolina: Agrees with the decision.

Elicker: Agrees with decision. We should “focus on the roots” of the drug problem and make sure Attorney General Eric Holder follows through on the decision. “We need to continue to prosecute people who are involved in illegal drug trafficking” but also focus on “the roots” of the drug problem in part by increasing people’s access to jobs early childhood education, and youth programs.

Who should become the next fire chief?

Fernandez: “I literally don’t know.” Knows of “no obvious” leader in the wings. “The department is at a point where it needs a strong leader to address issues of morale and budget. ... I’m committed to making sure changes occur.”

Harp: “We should do a reasonable search.”

Carolina: “The best qualified individual.”

Elicker: Don’t know.

Who should become the next police chief?

Fernandez: “I’ve been impressed with the leadership team that’s been put in place. I’ve worked most extensively with [Assistant Chief Luiz] Casanova I have a lot of respect for him.” He hopes to “keep [current Chief] Esserman around.” He has a “strong preference” for hiring internally whenever Esserman leaves. “We got a bit lost with the succession of out-of-state chiefs” over the past decade.

Harp: “We should do a reasonable search.”

Carolina: “The best qualified individual.”

Elicker: Don’t know. “I’m going to do everything I can to keep Esserman.”

Have you ever been a victim of a crime in New Haven? If so, what happened? What lesson(s) did you draw?

Harp: “This [campaign] office has been a victim of crime most recently. When I lived on Lynwood Place someone broke into my apartment and stole some things. I’ve had stuff stolen out of my car. I learned to keep my windows closed and to lock my doors to my car.”

Carolina: Several weeks ago, someone stole his mountain bike; his son had locked it at a playground, and the thief broke the lock.

“I’m here at the campaign headquarters the next day. I’m leaving campaign headquarters, and I see three young men come riding by. One of them I knew. Flagged him down, began talking to him. After closely examining the bike, I realized it was my bike. So I put my hands on the bike and I said to the young man [on it], ‘You know have my bike.’ And he looked at me, froze up. I told him, ‘Look, this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to assume somebody gave you my bike. ... You realize that my tag is here, my initials are under that seat? So how do you want to handle this.’?’‘

“He got off the bike. He said, ‘I don’t want to cause any problems, Mr. Carolina.’ He got off the bike. .. I went in my pocket and gave him five dollars. I said, ‘That’s just for you returning my bike. That’s the reward ...’ I put the bike in the back of my truck and drove back home.

“It really spoke to the fact that we have young people out here searching for ways to either put money in their pocket or ways to have things they wouldn’t otherwise have. A bike is included in that.

“The young man walked away with his friends. The other two friends were on bike, and he was walking. Quite honestly I was tempted to take his address and let him keep the bike until later that night.”

Elicker: He committed a crime—and got caught. One afternoon, he was making a right turn against the light from College Street onto Chapel. “Lt. [Ray] Hassett, with lights and siren, pulled me over and said I should step away from my vehicle. I said, ‘I don’t have a kickstand.’ So I rested my bike, and he gave me a ticket.

“I learned that everyone should abide by the law. If we are enforcing the laws on cyclists, we need to enforce the laws on car drivers as well. For years and years the New Haven police department has not been nearly as good as we should be in enforcing vehicle violations.”

Fernandez: “I live in Fair Haven. Outside my home from time to time we have issues with prostitutes and drug-dealing. I’ve had to confront drug-dealers and prostitutes and people who bought drugs. You usually say, ‘Hey, you can’t do that here.’ Most of the time people leave. Most of the time people don’t want to be bothered. They realize they’re doing something wrong ... I’m raising with my wife Kica a son here in Fair Haven. I’m not going to tolerate any activity like that outside my home. Nor should anyone. ...

“At one point after a confrontation with a man who was trying to find, I guess, drugs that had been placed for him, I said , ‘You’ve got to go. You can’t be here.’ We got into a shouting match. I eventually had to call the police to ensure the problem was resolved.

“The next day I found a window of my car broken out. But he’s gone and no longer in our neighborhood. And I’m still there.”

Previous installment in this series:

• Where the candidates stand on housing and neighborhood development

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posted by: anonymous on September 4, 2013  12:15pm

On the speed limit question, Elicker, Fernandez, and Carolina prove that they have a basic grasp of National and International Trends 101. 

They understand what tens of thousands of other cities, including many in Connecticut, now consider to be a best practice.

Harp shows that she would fail Traffic Engineering 101, unless the course material was all outdated by 10 or more years.  Her views are very badly misinformed and would send New Haven back to the failed policies of the 1970s and 1980s.  Her “vision” presumably included the State widening of Whalley Avenue, over the objections of hundreds of residents, a few years ago.

posted by: Elizabethaiken on September 4, 2013  12:46pm

These are good articles.

posted by: robn on September 4, 2013  12:59pm

Harp close firehouses? And lose a perfectly good endorsement?

posted by: FacChec on September 4, 2013  1:20pm

Speed Limit .. A State of CT DOT view


Speed limits are established to move traffic in a uniform and safe manner. In Connecticut, the OSTA, in conjunction with the Local Traffic Authorities (LTA) of the individual towns/cities, establishes speed limits for all public roads. In Connecticut, the legislature has established a statewide maximum speed limit of 65 mph. 


Won’t lowering the speed limit reduce speeds?

NO. Studies show that there is little change in the speed pattern after the posting of a speed limit. The driver is much more influenced by the roadway conditions.

Will lowering the speed limit reduce accident frequency?

NO. Although lowering the speed limit is often seen as a cure-all in preventing accidents, this is not the case. Accidents are most often the result of driver inattention and driver error.

If a posted speed limit is unrealistically low, it creates a speed variance (i.e., some drivers follow the speed limit while most drive the reasonable speed). This speed variance can contribute to accidents. 

Why do we even have speed limits?

A uniform speed of vehicles in a traffic flow results in the safest operation. The posted speed limits can keep the traffic flowing smoothly provided the majority of drivers find the speed limits reasonable. To do this, the limits must be consistent throughout the state.

The speed limits also give the motorist an idea of a reasonable speed to drive in an unfamiliar location.

The speed limits are used by police officials to identify excessive speeds and curb unreasonable behavior.

posted by: Scot on September 4, 2013  1:55pm

On fire dept:  Harp in favor of whatever unions want regardless of consequences.  Elicker with a reasonable and interesting idea that indicates he’s put a lot of thought into it.

On speed limits:  Harp in favor of what’s best for suburban commuters; the others in favor of what’s best for NH residents.

On narcotics unit:  Harp’s proposal sounds reasonable but Elicker’s answer is best: this is a decision for the police dept to make, not the mayor.

On stop and frisk: they all agree

On minimum mandatory drug sentences: they all agree

On next fire chief:  nobody knows

On next police chief: nobody knows; Elicker and Fernandez show support for Esserman.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on September 4, 2013  2:07pm

Justin time and time again keep showing that he knows this city and its dept. ect. Henry is doing well to. Carolina is a lifer so he gets my respect to. But Harp really does not belong in this race. She seems to be confused and clueless about this city. It is kind of sad to watch.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on September 4, 2013  2:11pm

And henry I do the same on my street…I have had my tires sliced, windows broken, was chased by a guy with a gun (took the cops 2 hours to arrive but surprising the caught the guy.)

After the gun one I was taught if I have to at least phase it as ” excuse me are you lost?” They always drive away after that.

posted by: anonymous on September 4, 2013  2:33pm

FacChec: Like Harp’s views on this, DOT’s guidance is biased and dangerously outdated.  There is a reason why engineers agree that Connecticut DOT is one of the worst if not the worst transportation departments in the nation - we have State Senators and Governors who are never willing to hold it accountable. 

Speaking of which, have you ever read DOT’s statement on the highway that was supposed to demolish all of East Rock Park in the 1960s, running on top of the Mill River out to Hamden Hall?  DOT has the same contempt for city residents that they did back then.

posted by: Hieronymous on September 4, 2013  2:58pm

FacChec, why would we want to follow the DOT’s advice on speed limits? The only speed limits they set are on state highways where, yes, studies (and our own experience on the Merritt/Wilbur Cross) have shown that lower speed limits don’t result in lower speeds (and that, within reason, the most important thing is that traffic is proceeding at the same speed, whether it’s 55, 65, or 75). The question posed here has to do with speed limits on city streets, where the most recent scholarship shows precisely the opposite. Lower speed limits (and narrower streets) are safer and promote commercial activity and quality of life, to boot. Check out the pdf link to a report in the Journal of American Planning Association, embedded here: Or consider the widely disseminated NYC traffic studies showing that a pedestrian hit by a car traveling 40 mph has a 70% chance of being killed, compared with a 20% chance if the car is traveling 30 mph. A lower speed limit does not eliminate speeding, but it tends to lower the relative “speed of speeding.”

This isn’t a crucial issue for me, given that we already have, in theory, a pretty low speed limit and I agree that priority should be placed on enforcement. But I—like (I hope) the majority of people who live in this city, people who might actually set foot on or near our streets outside of a car—would welcome any measure that puts people before cars. I found Harp’s answer to this question (while candid) to be revealing.

I’m too lazy to double check, but on a first read it appeared that Elicker, Carolina, and Fernandez were basically in agreement as to every question. Harp agreed as to most, but where she disagreed (speeding, fire department), I thought she was (a) wrong and (B) way behind the times. This is a city. Let’s elect someone who understands (and likes!) cities.

Once again, these are great stories; keep’em coming.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on September 4, 2013  3:23pm

I can’t add much to what anonymous and Heironymous have said, but I think the question of reducing speed limits only applied to local streets that the city controls, which are located in the city’s neighborhoods. The State DOT controls the State Highways like Whalley, Dixwell, Whitney, etc. I don’t think the city has any immediate control over the speed limits of those State thoroughfares, but it does on local streets. Perhaps the city would have some leverage about changing the speed limits on the State’s roads located in the city, but I don’t think that’s what the question was about.

posted by: FacChec on September 4, 2013  3:47pm

The question is:

Do you support reducing the speed limit to 20 miles per hour on residential streets?
First of all there is no proposal by New Haven Traffic & parking or the Police Dept. to reduce the speed limit in New Haven.

The appropriate speed by law is set in the Charter

From the Charter, city of New Haven:

Sec. 29-21. - General speed limit; exceptions.

No person shall operate any motor vehicle on any street, highway or bridge within the municipal limits of the city at a rate of speed greater than twenty-five (25) miles per hour except where otherwise designated. Nothing in this section shall apply to members of the police department or the fire department operating vehicles in the performance of official business.

The Police dept. is responsible for enforcing speed law. They would be the first to admit that they cannot adequately enforce this limit, much less a proposed 20 mile per Hr new limit. All commissioned DOT studies suggest lowering the speed prevents nothing, including speeding and accidents.

Somehow both anonymous on September 4, 2013 2:33pm
And Hieronymous on September 4, 2013 2:58pm
Would want to create their own set of limits for some unknown set of purposes, other than biking.

posted by: anonymous on September 4, 2013  4:27pm

Notably, when asked the question about lower speed limits at the Democracy Fund debate, Harp said that she supported them. Which is it?

FacChec, in the world of traffic engineering, ConnDOT is just about the least reliable source that you can possibly cite.  There are plenty of other studies showing that lower residential speed limits have a major impact, not only on measured speed, but on public interest more generally.

There are some institutional barriers to reduced speed limits on side streets, including a few tens of thousands of dollars needed to print new road signs. But hundreds of other U.S. cities have found ways to overcome these in recent years.

If these barriers do not stop Greenwich or Darien from reducing residential speeds to 15 or 20 miles per hour, then they shouldn’t stop New Haven. The lives of New Haven children are worth just as much as those of the children living in the neighborhoods where Governor Malloy comes from.

Regarding police enforcement:

1) If you set the speed limit at 25, your officers generally can’t issue tickets unless drivers are going above 30, which is far too fast for a neighborhood street.  But if you set the speed limit at 20, you may be able to ticket drivers for traveling above 25 miles per hour in a residential area.  (for this reason, many cities and towns are actually going with 15 mile per hour limits).

2) The reality is that the police will never be able to enforce traffic laws across 250 miles of city streets.  The only feasible solution is to make streets self-enforcing, and to give neighborhoods the tools that they need to advocate for slower speeds over time.  This means posting a speed limits that the neighborhood desires, not the one recommended by a dusty traffic manual.  If drivers do not come close to following a posted limit, then neighbors will organize themselves and advocate for changes.

posted by: Scot on September 4, 2013  4:34pm

Of the 8 questions, the candidates basically agreed on four of them (stop & frisk, drug sentences, next fire chief, next police chief).  A few of the questions don’t seem that critical in the big picture (like who the next fire chief will be, or if they were victims of crime).

Here are a few questions I’d like to hear answered:
1) What SPECIFICALLY would you do to bring new businesses (jobs) to New Haven? in particular, manufacturing jobs (or other well-paying jobs that don’t require advance degrees)?
2) What are your plans for developing (or not developing) the Harbor? Long Wharf? any other areas you see as underutilized?
3) What is something you would do to reduce crime that isn’t already being done?
4) Why did you choose to participate (or not participate) in campaign financing?
5) What do you feel is the relationship between taxes, cost of living/doing business, and job creation in New Haven?
6) What has been the best thing about the Destefano administration?  What’s been the worst thing? 

There are many more, but I’d like to see more questions that we know the candidates either differ on, or questions that require detailed knowledge of the city.

[Editor: Thanks for the input. This is part of of a four-part series on issues; today concerned public safety. Some of the questions do appear in the others.]

posted by: Hieronymous on September 4, 2013  9:44pm

Having just watched the Elicker clip, I have to agree with him that it’s high time we reined in the corrupt street-sign lobby in New Haven. Imagine a city which, like NYC, just has a simple ordinance prohibiting right turns on red. Instead, thanks to well placed campaign contributions and (I’m reliably informed) outright blackmail, we end up with a sign on virtually every corner.  It’s probably the most sinister cabal since the drinking-fountain lobby fought desegregation and it clearly holds more sway than the flagmakers lobby, which has gained little traction in its campaign for Puerto Rican state-(and star)-hood. Really, it’s the primary reason I don’t support Fernandez, given his close ties to former traffic czar and sign-lobby patsy Paul Wessel. I trust this will be Elicker’s climactic 75th fresh solution.

posted by: beyonddiscussion on September 5, 2013  12:41am

I like Harp’s answers. They reflect a common sense pragmatism based on real world experience. For instance, she’s the only one to not support making a law to reduce the speed limit to 20 mph. Good for her! The last thing New Haven needs is more laws. It would be just a big waste of time and tax dollars. As she says, we just need people to do their jobs and enforce the ones we have.

posted by: Trustme on September 5, 2013  10:23am

Again Harp is right again, New Haven as a huge drug problem and we need a narcotics team, bottom line. Carolina and all of the other candidates need to understand that by getting drug-dealers the guns will come. Most of the guns that ATF, DEA, Statewide narcotics, and our old narcotics team have seized guns during search warrant executions for a house who’s selling drugs. Drugs and guns go together and let’s not forget the senseless violence, its not rocket science. Most of New Haven drug-dealers carry guns, if its not on their person is near by (like in a backyard, inside a mailbox, or under a garbage can, etc) or if they are not carrying guns his buddy is next to him or down the block being the enforcer. Drugs destroy lives and families and clearly the addicts are just as much to blame, but the judge wont throw the hammer on them because they are addicts. We have to go after the drug-dealers. To get guns is a much harder operation for officers than it is to get drugs, referring to surveillance.  New Haven is a city off i95, which is stuck in the middle between one of the two biggest cities in the east coast (Boston and NY). And i91 connects to New Haven which leads into another drug and gun infested city like Hartford, a lot goes through New Haven and possibly even stops here. A new New Haven narcotics unit can save a lot of lives and help with the violence. Drugs destroy New Haven, we have to do something about it. We will never stop the war on drugs but lets not sit back, Lets do something. Go Harp.

posted by: TheMadcap on September 5, 2013  11:41am

Let’s not forget the previous narcotics unit had to be shut down due to mass corruption. We don’t need a narcotics unit specifically because we don’t need someone hammering away at drug addicts and small time dealers. No one should be hammering away at addicts unless they’re breaking other laws as well. Saying they’re as much to blame is like saying alcohol consumers are all as much to blame for drunk drivers as the drunk driver themselves are since they help keep bars and liquor stores in business. Drugs cause problems because gangs fight over them. Now unless New Haven plans to single handedly change the nation’s drug laws, the flow of drugs or people using drugs will never be stopped, it doesn’t matter how much interdiction you run. If you keep breaking up gangs though, you at least stop them from becoming powerful dealers with tens of thousands of dollars at stake who will kill to protect territory.

posted by: Trustme on September 5, 2013  1:09pm

The small time dealers carry guns and work for someone who’s bigger. Its the guys on the corner (small time dealers) starting all the violence and getting shot at. Start with the “small time dealers” and continue the investigation and try to get the rest of the crew and then the big fish. Can’t just go after the big fish and call a day. Madcap I would love to know your definition of small time dealers????

posted by: TheMadcap on September 5, 2013  4:51pm

Small time dealer = One not affiliated with gangs, often someone dealing small amounts to in fact support their own habit. If they’re part of a gang, we already have teams out there working on bringing down gangs

posted by: Trustme on September 5, 2013  7:52pm

Ok I agree with most of all your comments madcap, besides the need for a narcotics unit. I believe that there is no small time dealers out on the violent street corners of New Haven selling drugs, specially in the Tre, hill, ville, etc., because they wouldn’t last a second out there. I believe that the small time dealers sell their drugs in isolated areas where there is no competition or gang activity, and probably very few of them are actually dangerous without counting the fact they are still drug dealing criminals. Usually narcotic teams would put in most of their work in violence plagued neighborhoods and get the drug dealers and the seizure of drugs money and guns will come. Cops usually will not waste time on small time dealers, there as been great work in the past 4 years in New Haven from NHPD’s Street Interdiction Unit and tactical Narcotic Unit including great work from DEA FBI and ATF who most of it is investigated by NHPD officers on two year temporary assignments and all said units led by NHPD have put extremely violent criminals in jAil and guaranteed that all of them have been charged with possession or sale of some type of drugs i. The past. That’s why we really need a good narcotics team with great NHPD officers and a couple of supervisors with integrity and get working.

posted by: beyonddiscussion on September 5, 2013  8:45pm

Hey if you elect someone who says we’re on the path to being Detroit, this guy Elicker has some drastic measures in mind. He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The endorsement of Doug Rae, Daniels’ main man, speaks volumes.  Nice guy, sharp, hard worker from what I can tell, but like Daniels, dangerously out of his league.