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Conn. police chief under fire over outbursts

Chief Dean Esserman has confounded both supporters and critics over the years with dueling personalities


In this Nov. 27, 2012 file photo, New Haven, Conn., Police Chief Dean Esserman speaks at news conference about a new effort to reduce gun violence.

AP File Photo/Jessica Hill

By Dave Collins
Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. — New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman has confounded both supporters and critics over the years with dueling good cop-bad cop personalities.

He has gained attention and respect nationally for putting in place community policing programs in Connecticut and Rhode Island, accomplishments that got him invited to the White House this month for a discussion with the president and others about easing tensions between law enforcement and minority communities. He also is known for meeting with crime victims’ families.

Then there’s the Esserman who has gotten in trouble for angry public outbursts, the latest coming this month at a New Haven restaurant where he reportedly was upset about the service and berated a waitress, leading people sitting near him to request other tables.

Esserman agreed to take three weeks of paid leave, announced Monday, and potentially faces more serious discipline. Mayor Toni Harp warned him two years ago when she reprimanded him for a confrontation with an usher at the Yale Bowl.

A Yale professor who witnessed the episode told city police commissioners that when the usher asked Esserman for his ticket to the Yale-Army football game, Esserman threatened to cancel the game, told the usher he didn’t need tickets because he was the police chief, verbally abused the usher and demanded a stadium supervisor remove the usher.

In 2011, when he was police chief in Providence, Rhode Island, Esserman was suspended without pay for one day for what media reports said was a threat to throw coffee in the face of a sergeant who was coughing during a speech by Esserman.

Officers in both New Haven and Providence voted no confidence in Esserman, accusing him of publicly berating officers, intimidation, favoritism and retaliation, among other things.

Esserman, a Dartmouth College graduate and former prosecutor who never served as a rank-and-file officer, has apologized in the past for public outbursts. He declined to comment for this article.

Harp said in a statement that she considers reports of Esserman’s conduct with the waitress unbecoming of a public official. She declined further comment.

The New Haven police union is calling for Esserman to resign.

Esserman also had a rocky tenure in Providence, where he was chief from 2003 to 2011.

In June 2011, four months after his one-day suspension, Esserman resigned after minors consumed alcohol at a graduation party for his daughter at his home. Esserman said at the time that the minors drank without his permission and that he broke up the party. He resigned, saying the controversy had become a distraction.

Esserman was credited with cleaning up department corruption fomented by former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci, who served 21 years and was forced out twice because of felony convictions. When Esserman was hired, then-Mayor David Cicilline, now a congressman, called his pick “the best police chief in America.”

Cianci, who died in January, used his radio show after his release from prison to deride Esserman as “Chief Shiny Badge” for flashing his badge around.

Sgt. Robert Boehm, president of the Providence Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3, said Esserman was good at getting money for the department and getting people’s attention.

“A lot of people obviously like the guy,” Boehm said. “For whatever reason, once in a while he tends to show this side of himself and gets in trouble. ... It’s not easy being chief of police. You’re always going to have your supporters and your enemies.”

Esserman is a protege of New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton, former chief of the Los Angeles police and former Boston police commissioner.

Esserman was an assistant prosecutor in Brooklyn, New York, then was assistant police chief in New Haven from 1991 to 1993. As assistant chief, Esserman was credited with helping start the city’s first community policing program.

He later worked as police chief for the Metro-North Railroad and in Stamford, Connecticut, before moving to Providence in 2003 and back to New Haven in 2011. In his return to New Haven, he has committed to revitalizing community policing.

Esserman was among 30 law enforcement officials, civil rights activists and other people invited to a White House discussion this month on improving police-community relations. He also attended a White House discussion on reducing incarceration across the country in October.

Harp, the New Haven mayor, praised Esserman when she recommended his reappointment to a four-year term in 2014. She touted the police department’s community policing efforts and the city’s declining crime rate.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press

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