New Haven Police Chief: City Could Help Teach Community Policing In Wake Of National Tensions

New Haven Police Chief: City Could Help Teach Community Policing In Wake Of National Tensions

New Haven Register, July 12, 2016

By Anna Bisaro

NEW HAVEN -- Federal lawmakers should focus on creating a national policing curriculum as one step toward easing the growing tension between the public and police across the country, New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman said Monday.

Rather than one unified police force, all practicing the same police tactics, “we wear 18,000 different uniforms,” Esserman said. There is no national standard for policing, and each individual department across the country adheres to its own rules, but the New Haven police chief said he believes the city department could serve as a model for other departments across the country. “There are things we could teach with humility,” Esserman said.

“There are things that are working here in New Haven that we can teach.” Esserman spoke as a group of local lawmakers, clergy, and city police met with Mayor Toni Harp, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3, Monday to discuss the recent police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana and the subsequent fatal violence against police in Dallas Thursday night.

“This week has been a nightmare,” Blumenthal said to open the discussion. “Gun violence, with horrifying repetition, continues to take lives.” “Local leadership is going to make the real difference here,” he added.

List of recommendations back to top

Blumenthal asked Esserman for a list of recommendations for the senator to bring to Washington to help lawmakers address the tensions between communities and police. In addition to a national curriculum, Esserman said the idea that “cops count” has to be reinstated in the American people.

“This is a tough time for America, so it’s a tough time for America’s police,” the police chief said. Many officers across the nation wear their blue uniforms with pride, Esserman said. But, for many in the public, that same blue uniform instills fear and anger. “I think this is a department that needs to feel others’ pain if it wants others to feel our pride,” he added.

Assistant Chief Luis Casanova echoed Esserman’s sentiments, expressed feelings of pain and loss for the officers who died in Dallas last week, and said he and other members of the department were willing to teach other police officers across the country how to effectively use community policing to reduce crime and be more integrated in the cities where police work.

Casanova, who heads the city’s police training bureau, said the New Haven Police Department also needed to continue its efforts to get locals into the force. But, more importantly, officers need to listen to the needs of the public and communication needs to improve. “New officers need to understand the community they are going to police,” Casanova said. “We are one community and we need to stop causing a divide.”

Casanova encouraged the mayor and congressmen to push for meetings like the one held Monday to occur more often, and not just in reaction to tragedies. Community policing, long lauded in the city as the best way to reduce violence, is working, Harp said, but the city still has a way to go. “We are an example in New Haven, but we are not perfect,” she said. “I know when we work together we can solve problems.”

Many around the table Monday were critical of Washington for failing to act on gun control legislation or other issues that might help curb violence by and against police. Among those most vocal was Eli Greer, co-chairman of the mayor’s Community and Police Relations Task Force. “(Lawmakers) can have all of the meetings and grandstanding ... but there has to be action,” Greer said. Until action results from meetings like those that took place Monday, no progress will be made, he said. Blumenthal and DeLauro noted recent events in Washington, including the filibuster by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and the House Democrats’ sit-in over gun legislation.

But they also agreed that more action needs to be taken to ensure no community is complacent about these issues of police violence. “It’s not a single issue,” DeLauro said, noting that there are many problems that contribute to racial tensions and violence by and against police. “We will do everything we can to bring your voices to Washington,” she said.