How One Police Force Embraces ‘New Thinking’

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The New Haven Department of Police Service, one of the oldest police departments in our nation, boasts a long and proud tradition that goes back to the early days of the Republic. Beginning as a citizen night watch in the 18th century, and established as a police department in 1861, it has served and protected our community for three centuries.

We have not rested on our history. As times have changed, we have consistently embraced new thinking, accepted new challenges, and responded to changing times.

Events in Ferguson, Baltimore, North Charleston, and Staten Island, NY have led to questions about policing and calls for transparency.

We’ve heard those calls for change—and we have already been acting on them over the past years.

Here are some of the measures we have been taking:

• Our weekly COMPSTAT meetings are open to the public and the press;

• Our crime stats are published weekly and shared with community partners and Blockwatches;

• Our new officers, upon completion of their training, are assigned neighborhood walking beats for their first year;

• We run a free Police Athletic League Camp every summer;

• Our seven-day-a-week Internal Affairs makes house calls to citizens who are uncomfortable coming into police headquarters to file a complaint;

• We are piloting the use of body cameras in partnership with our union;

• Our use of force policies and procedures are amongst the most professional and strict in the nation.

We are also proud of the traditions we have inherited from the long blue line that has come before us.

These traditions are based on the values that the New Haven police badge represents and that our oath of office affirms: duty, honor, integrity, courage and compassion.

Duty and honor speak for themselves, we practice them every day.

Integrity: New Haven police officers must be incapable of falsehood and will not tolerate a lack of honesty in their presence.

Courage: our job demands physical courage, but also moral courage. Standing for what is right and ethical sometimes means standing alone.

Compassion: a New Haven police officer often is called to be with someone when they are most out of control, most dangerous, most frightened, or most vulnerable. There are times we need to put our hands on someone, and other times when we need to put our arms around them. In changing times, these values are unchanging.

They represent what our badge and uniform stand for in New Haven.

In these challenging times across our nation, it is important that we clearly and unequivocally state our values and where we stand. The New Haven Police Department does not accept the label of blue warriors, as if we are anonymous blue soldiers in occupation on the streets of the cities of America.

Rather we see ourselves as guardians of our community, and guardians of our Constitution.

Crime and violence continue to decline in New Haven—and the trust and legitimacy of the New Haven Police Department in the eyes of our citizens continues to rise.

Dean Esserman is New Haven’s chief of police. The above is a slightly edited version of an essay that appeared in the New Haven Register this month. For the complete essay, please click HERE. Chief Esserman welcomes comments from readers.

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