Prompted by city lawyers, the New Haven Police Department turned over a copy of its new two-page hiring guidelines — with almost every line about drug use whited out.
Feel like helping to fill in the blanks?
The heavily redacted two-page document, New Haven Department of Police Service Employment Drug Policy, was provided to the Independent in response to a Connecticut Freedom of Information Act request. Click here to download a copy.
The department crafted the new policy in response to calls from officials, including Mayor Toni Harp, to ease up on rules that disqualified candidates who had smoked marijuana some time in the previous two years.
The newly released portions of the hiring policy state that applicants’ past drug use will be viewed on a “case by case basis.” The department won’t accept cadets who’ve “ever” sold certain drugs, while there are undisclosed time limits on the use of other drugs. The department also won’t accept anyone caught drunk driving multiple times or within the last year.
Beyond that, the redacted version released by the police leaves out all pertinent facts.
“The applicant will be disqualified if he/she has used any ______,” it reads.
“The applicant will be disqualified if he/she has illegally used any controlled substance within _______.”
You get the idea: The censors aren’t telling.
City lawyers and the police department’s brass argue that revealing the substance of the policy, with specifics on allowable drug use, would allow recruits to deceive background investigators. In withholding most of the document, top cops equated the policy to the scoring key on a test.
Other cities make the drug rules for applicants public, making a distinction between job qualifications and civil service test questions.
The Independent is appealing the non-disclosure to the state’s Freedom of Information Commission, arguing that hiring policies aren’t exams, even if they contain information that an applicant might be questioned about; they are matters of policy meriting public disclosure and discussion. (Read about that debate here.)
The new hiring guidelines, which took effect this month, were approved by the Board of Police Commissioners after an hour-long closed-door meeting. The commissioners and top cops were told the secret meeting was justified by Michael Wolak, a city attorney with a record of outlying takes on the First Amendment and police accountability. (He once earned a rebuke from a federal judge, for instance, after moving to have a misconduct lawsuit against a rogue cop dismissed because a news organization had written a story about the case.) Department officials have also refused to answer questions about what’s in the policy.
In addition to the few lines released this week, there been other hints about what the redacted portions contain. Last week, the Police Commission gave a second chance to a few marijuana smokers. The commissioners allowed ex-tokers who’d smoked more than five years ago to continue in the process, while they affirmed investigators’ recommendation to cut more recent pot smokers, cocaine snorters and juvenile drug dealers.
Compared to the secrecy in the Elm City, other police departments aren’t so cagey about their hiring policies.
Hartford’s police department is clear that it doesn’t permit any marijuana use in the last 12 months. Waterbury’s police department doesn’t have a hard, set policy on drugs, instead reviewing candidates on a case-by-case basis.
Up in New Hampshire, where retired New Haven Assistant Chief John Velleca ran a local police agency, applicants could access a link online that showed they’d be disqualified if they used marijuana within the past two years. In a recent interview on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven” program, Velleca said he understands New Haven brass’s concerns about releasing the information. And he said he can’t blame commissioners and top cops for taking the advice of a city lawyer, whom they need to trust to conduct business. But he argued that releasing the information helps the public understand police policy and therefore have more confidence in the cops.
The Independent has asked the Freedom of Information Commission to compel the Police Commission to turn over any notes from its executive session and for the Police Department to turn over the hiring policy in full.
In the meantime, while the department won’t inform the public about its hiring policy, maybe the public can help suss it out. Or at least guess.
This is where you come in. We’ve created a Mad Libs-style computer program to allow you to “un-redact” the policy. Fill in the blanks, and see how the policy looks when you’re done.
Click run below to get started on writing your own hiring policy.
With the police department hiding its policy from the public, it’s anybody’s guess what the true version contains!
Festa Questions Chief On Policy
Police Chief Anthony Campbell was asked about the silence on the policy during an appearance Thursday night at a Board of Alders Finance Committee workshop on the proposed new city budget.
Chief Campbell told the alders that his department is committed to transparency. Just not on this issue.
East Rock Alder Anna Festa asked Campbell about a recent Board of Police Commissioners meeting where members refused to share details about the changes to the drug policy that they were approving in the police’s hiring guidelines.
“You expect us to fund these classes without knowing what those policies are?” Festa asked Campbell.
Campell said that the police commissioners were indeed discussing the department’s drug policy at that meeting, but that he could not share more details than that.
“You never would put something like that to the public,” he said. He said that if the department shared the details of its drug policy, then new applicants would be able to tailor their responses to the questions.
He provided insight into the hypothetical parameters of the change to the policy.
“The drug policy in the past may have said something with regard to marijuana,” he told the alders. “So, if someone were living in a state that decriminalized marijuana, but is now living in our state and applying for a police position, we have to take that into consideration. Our policy has to reflect that.”
He said that the withholding of specifics on the drug policy is analogous to a high school student receiving a sample SAT to help practice for that standardized test, as opposed to receiving the exact test beforehand so that she can prepare specific answers in response to specific questions. (The question about drug policy appears on the department’s job application, not the civil service test.)
“I do believe in transparency,” Campbell said. “Everything we’re trying to do in the department is moving towards greater transparency. But the reality is that in law enforcement, not everything we can do can be shared with the general public, especially when it comes to trying to make sure that people are truthful.”
Thomas W. Breen contributed to this article.