Standing alongside a dozen framed black-and-white photographs from the New Haven police department’s past and present, Sgt. John Wolcheski paused with a smile as he recalled the story behind each picture.
“This is from 2012, when a flash flood raised the water level of the West River by four or five feet,” he explained, pointing to a picture of himself dressed in department-issued scuba diving gear, bobbing just above the surface of a swollen river. “And here’s a picture from when JFK visited the Yale Law School, and a New Haven police officer blocked an excited student from rushing the motorcade.
“And this is Bobby Fumiatti, whom I shared an office with when we both worked in the Hill, a few years before he passed away from complications related to getting shot in the face during a drug raid.”
These pictures, and the stories and memories of New Haven police department history that stood behind them, lined a narrow hallway at the center of the new District 10 police substation at 332 Whalley Ave., a ground-floor office space in a three-story building between Winthrop and Sherman Avenues, right next to Minore’s Meat Market.
Overseen by Sgt. Wolcheski, an 18-year-veteran of the New Haven police department and the top cop for the Whalley-Edgewood-Beaver Hills (WEB) neighborhood, the police substation hosted an official grand opening celebration on Sunday afternoon. Over 200 people attended the event, which featured cake, a kosher food table, and speeches from District 10 cops, local alders, and neighborhood business leaders.
The District 10 substation’s relocation to 332 Whalley Ave. has been a long time in the works.
In early 2014, then-WEB top cop Lt. Makiem Miller and then-Police Chief Dean Esserman formally started planning to move the substation from its home at 386 Whalley Avenue, a building owned by Edgewood Corners and the Greer family.
Community members were unhappy with how the substation was tucked away at the corner of Whalley and Norton, largely hidden from the neighborhood’s main commercial thoroughfare, and seemingly a relatively ineffective deterrent to that stretch’s struggles with crime and blight. Similarly, the police officer tenants were eager for a new, more visible home with updated utilities and a larger space for community meetings.
Fast forward to June 2015, when the substation officially vacated 386 Whalley in anticipation of moving into its new home a few blocks up the road, waiting only for landlord Pat Minore to complete structural renovations to the three-story building as well as to the façade of his adjacent market.
Those renovations took much longer than expected, requiring Minore to invest well over the $500,000 he had initially budgeted for the project, he said. For the next year and a half, the District 10 officers and the various other community groups that used the substation bounced from location to location, holding monthly meetings at everywhere from Edge of the Woods to Stop and Shop to Hillhouse High School.
Although Minore is still renovating his market’s façade as well as 332 Whalley’s upper two stories, which contain three residential apartments that will be made available for rent, the ground-floor space is complete, and the District 10 substation officially opened its doors to the public and its officers two months ago.
The Sunday afternoon party was held in the substation’s back room, a large community space with hard-wood floors and a small kitchen. Since the substation opened earlier this fall, this back room has played home to probation meetings, the Whalley Avenue Special Services District (WASSD) business improvement committee, the WEB management committee, the neighborhood’s three alders, and any other constituents looking for a safe, well-lit place to gather. Wolcheski said he is eager to keep this public space active and open, hoping to host a chess tournament and a community cookout in the months to come.
At the front of the building is the police area of the substation: a medium-sized, street-level office space with three large, floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on Whalley Avenue. Here Wolcheski has sought to provide his officers with as much information as possible, in regards to both their day-to-day work and the historical context of the department.
Across the room from a corkboard pinned with information on the geography of the district stands a desk with three binders, side-by-side and prominently placed for any officer to flip through: one is labelled Active Felony Warrants, and contains individual profiles of people with active warrants out for their arrest; the second is a printout with weekly information on prisoner releases; and the third is a seven-tabbed collection named “A brief history of law enforcement in New Haven.”
From the photos hanging on the walls to the police department history lessons on the tables to the ample community space in the back, the District 10 substation leans as much towards being a warm, welcoming place for community members to interact with the neighborhood’s officers as it does towards being a visible deterrent to street-level crime. Which is exactly what Wolcheski wants it to be.
Wrapping up his brief tour of NHPD photographs, he turned to face the blank white wall across the hallway. “And this is where we’re going to put photographs of people from the community,” he said. “We’re going to ask our neighbors to contribute their own photos, so that we can fill this wall with pictures of the many different people and faces that make this neighborhood great.”
After nearly a year and a half of not having a home in the neighborhood, Wolcheski and the District 10 police substation are quickly making up for lost time, filling the office’s walls and its rooms with mementos that seek to bridge the lives of the community and the work of the department.