Departing New Haven Police Chief Speaks Of The Ministry Of Law Enforcement | Connecticut Public Radio

Departing New Haven Police Chief Speaks Of The Ministry Of Law Enforcement

Feb 8, 2019

The New Haven Police Department lost 49 officers to retirement or better paying jobs in 2018. So far, the department has lost 10 this year. Police Chief Anthony Campbell makes 11. 

The department has a shortage of new officer recruits, and is feeling the strain of trying to retain the cops it already has. Adding to the pressure, police have been working for three years without a union contract, which is now in binding arbitration.

The city claims it can’t afford to pay cops more; officers say their benefits have been gutted, and that the city’s looking for benefits givebacks. Police say that’s why so many of them are leaving the department.

Campbell announced that he’ll be retiring in March, after 21 years with the department. He’s leaving for a job as an inspector with the New Haven state’s attorney’s office and he recently spoke to Connecticut Public Radio.

Interview Highlights

On why he’s leaving

Based on the information I was receiving about changes that would happen to the medical [benefits], I was determined that I would have to leave the department before those changes happened. I’ve had some medical issues over the years, particularly since I got hurt in the line of duty, and I need to keep that medical package. So we wanted to give the administration a chance to possibly put us in executive management medical -- wouldn’t cost the city anything -- and they flat out said no.

On the Board of Alders’ response to his proposals

I respect their decision to say no to us. But there’s a way to be professional, especially when you are an elected official, in how you relay information to people. We’ve always been respectful when we’re dealing with the Board of Alders. And the way they conveyed their feelings seemed to show disrespect for the work that we have done. That was disheartening -- that disrespect and that callousness.

On New Haven’s challenges

Balancing the resources that the city has, versus its ability to attract and retain good officers. To be losing officers at the rate that we’re losing them because the pay does not match the surrounding, not only towns, but literally when you have an organization like Yale University right next door that almost pays double the starting pay that our officers make -- it’s unrealistic to think that we can recruit and retain officers, when other departments are paying $20,000, $30,000, almost $40,000 more.

On his achievements

Very proud of the fact that we were able to launch the body camera initiative. That has been working very, very successfully. Between our Project Longevity program, our daily intel meetings, which many local departments participate in, where we exchange information to the degree that we can stop problems before they begin, I think that these initiatives combined with the YouthStat program which started under Mayor Harp in 2014, has led to lower crime, fewer injuries and a healthier city overall.

On his faith

Originally I was going to be a Jesuit priest. I wanted to do something that I felt would meet people where they were, in the most vulnerable times. And that’s what law enforcement allows you to do. To sometimes be the light in the darkness. People call us, people need us, at the lowest points in their lives, and they don’t just need someone to come and spout statutes and law. I believe that this is the greatest ministry around and it’s why I love doing this type of work.

His advice for his successor

Speak the truth. Love your people. Be open and vulnerable to them. They don’t need someone to lead them with a hammer. It doesn’t matter so much who the police chief is as long as they can continue to inspire the men and women who are on the front lines to go out and do the hard work. Because it is hard work, sometimes it is thankless, but it is the most noble work, I believe, that anyone can do. Every day, men and women of this department put on their uniforms with the reality that this may be the day that they have to lay down their life for someone else. Now if that’s not ministry, I don’t know what is.