By Juliemar Ortiz, New Haven Register
NEW HAVEN – Embattled Police Chief Dean Esserman Tuesday resigned from his position as top cop, effective Sept. 2, Mayor Toni N. Harp announced in a release.
Esserman has been being away from the department for nearly six weeks, after he was placed on administrative leave following an incident during which he allegedly berated wait staff at a city eatery, then went on sick leave.
“It has been a privilege to serve Mayor Harp and work alongside the remarkable men and women of the New Haven Department of Police Service, who no doubt have earned the title, ‘New Haven’s Finest,’” Esserman said in the release. “Last and certainly not least, it has been my privilege to serve the wonderful people of New Haven – I am so very grateful for having had this opportunity to do so.”
Both Harp and Esserman agreed the decision was in best interests of New Haven.
“Crime and violence have steadily and consistently decreased in New Haven throughout the nearly five years of Chief Esserman’s tenure and I’m grateful for the chief’s successful legacy,” Harp said. “Public safety in New Haven is improved after a return to grass roots community policing, productive partnerships with other law enforcement agencies, and positive interaction with community organizations.”
Esserman has been out on paid leave since July 26. His time away began with a mandatory 15-work-day paid administrative leave, after he allegedly berated wait staff at Archie Moore’s restaurant on Willow Street. The earliest Esserman was allowed to return to work per an agreement with Harp was August 16. He went on sick leave instead.
Assistant Chief Anthony Campbell has been serving as acting chief in Esserman’s absence and will continue to do so until a new chief is hired.
“I am confident in the future of the New Haven Police Department because of the excellent leadership, command staff, supervisors, detectives, and patrol officers who serve; day and night they earn the respect and gratitude of those who live in and visit New Haven,” Esserman said.
City records showed Esserman could have remained on paid sick leave until late October because he had 355 hours of accrued sick time when he entered the sick leave in mid August..
Last week the agreement signed by Esserman and Harp outlining terms of his administrative leave was released to the public through a Freedom of Information Act request by local grass-roots organization People Against Injustice.
The community continued to raise their concerns about the chief during his time away.
The police union, which voted no-confidence in Esserman in July, said members didn’t want him to return. A community forum was also held on August 8, during which a symbolic vote of “no confidence” in the chief was held.
Local activists rallied on the first day of Esserman’s sick leave, demanding that Harp fire the chief.
Harp responded to protests that day and said Esserman had not broken any laws and had committed no “dismissible” offense. Harp said it was up to Esserman as to whether or not he would return to duty.
The mayor noted steadily decreasing crime rates of the past five years coincided with Esserman’s tenure.
“Weekly, data-driven review and analysis of police activity is combined with an expanded use of technology to make New Haven a safer community – trust continues to grow between police officers and the communities they serve,” Harp added in July. “Residents and visitors feel safer and in fact are safer as a result.”
Esserman is nationally recognized for his community-policing approach. Less than a week before going on leave, he was invited to the White House to meet with President Barack Obama to discuss improving relationships between police and communities. Esserman also was invited to meet with Obama last year, as one of 130 police chiefs, sheriffs and prosecutors who are part of the Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration.
He was first appointed by former Mayor John DeStefano Jr. in 2011, and later reappointed by Harp in February 2014 to a four-year term that is set to expire on January 31, 2018.
In 2014, after a Yale University professor claimed in a letter to alders that Esserman threatened to “shut the whole game down” when an usher at a Yale-Army game questioned him, the chief apologized.
“I acted inappropriately and I was wrong,” Esserman said at the time. “I didn’t hide it. I’m not proud of my behavior. I was having a bad day but that’s not a good enough excuse. When you’re wrong, you’re wrong.”
The professor, a city resident, wrote to alders that he witnessed Esserman’s encounter with the usher and claimed Esserman demanded the usher’s supervisor remove the worker from the premises.
“When the supervisor hesitated the chief threatened that he would ‘shut the whole game down’ if the man was not removed immediately,” Weinberger wrote. “At this point I stood up and went to talk to the supervisor on the man’s behalf to give my account of the situation. I told the supervisor (while the chief was standing there) that the man had simply been trying to help us find our seats. At this point the chief turned to me and badgered and mocked me and asked if I wanted to make a statement.