Friday, August 24, 2007

Corruption Case Leads to Overhaul Recommendations in New Haven

NEW HAVEN — A national policing consultant submitted its 97-page draft report of the city police force Monday, making more than 50 recommendations for reforms inside the department in the wake of a corruption scandal that led to arrest of two officers.

Among recommendations from the Police Executive Research Forum was to hire an outsider to oversee the detective bureau and reconstituted anti-drug squad and improve oversight of use of informants and confidential informants funds.

A look at the now-disbanded narcotics unit, which was the focus of an FBI probe, revealed outdated, unsound procedures in dealing with seized evidence, informant funds and informants. And what policies were in place were often ignored by the former Lt. William White, who was arrested in March for allegedly stealing what he believed was drug money and accepting bribes from bail bondsmen. The unit apparently didn’t maintain any systemized records keeping or case tracking. Prosecutors who spoke with PERF reported poor quality reports that lacked essential details and contained frequent errors.

"I’m somewhat alarmed that the department does not have guidelines to regulate how it deals with confidential informants," said Jeff Meyer, a Quinnipiac University law professor and former federal prosecutor appointed to a local panel to work with PERF. He expressed equal surprise there wasn’t a systemized procedure for auditing financial books.

There are regulations, but they date back 24 years and were not followed, the report says.

When the narcotics unit is re-formed, candidates should be carefully screened and required to undergo background reviews, credit history checks and drug screening, said Craig Fraser, director of management services for PERF.

The city hired the consultant to examine the department’s internal affairs division, detective bureau and narcotics unit after the FBI raided police headquarters and arrested Detective Justen Kasperzyk and White, longtime head of the drug squad.

Fraser said a look at the department revealed strengths and weaknesses.

"What is the department doing right? Basic police work goes on day-to-day, investigations continue and bad guys are arrested," said Fraser. He cited the partnership with Yale Child Study Center and a lot of dedicated officers who are committed and eager to improve it.

At the same time, PERF noted a list of deficiencies that suggested a level of disorganization inside the department, a lack of clear, delineated direction and a general perception among many community members and some officers that the department hit a plateau and has started to regress in engaging the community to solve problems.

"There is a feeling, a frustration, that it has lost maybe its edge in terms of community policing," Fraser said.

If police Chief Francisco Ortiz Jr. was bothered by critiques of his department, he didn’t show it. After the draft report was publicly presented at City Hall, he described the study as a "great piece of work" and a "blueprint for success."

Rob Smuts, the city’s chief administrative officer, said some of the reforms already are in place and he and department brass would analyze the report to determine priorities.

Fraser said PERF does not apply a letter grade to its performance reports.

In comparison to other departments PERF has studied, Fraser said "New Haven has more challenges than some of the other departments we’ve looked at." As for the top brass in the department, he said it is "hamstrung" by lack of mid-level bosses.

The first peek at the study was somewhat of a spectacle. Typically, PERF provides the draft to the department behind closed doors but was directed to present it publicly to the panel the mayor appointed.

City officials first saw the report Monday. Tara Knight, a local defense attorney and member of the panel, asked if anything was pulled from the report. "Did we pull anything at the behest of the city?" responded Fraser. "No we did not."

Last year, an unrelated draft report by a different agency on the corporation counsel’s office recommended the city replace the head of that office. But that reference was deleted in the final report, at the request of the city.

Here are some PERF recommendations:

The department, in concert with the community, should develop a city-wide annual crime reduction strategy, the lack of which has caused a disjointed approach to controlling crime.

The department should create an assistant chief-level position and fill it with someone from the outside to oversee the detective bureau and narcotics squad. Clear guidelines with an eye toward accountability should be established for the anti-drug unit, narcotics investigators should be rotated out every four years and the bureau should get new case management software to better track investigations.

The department should create a Professional Standards Bureau, headed by another assistant-chief-level supervisor, to include internal affairs to investigate misconduct, an auditing function capable of reviewing the informants fund and other department finances, and individuals to revise the department’s written policies.

Many of the department’s written policies, guidelines and general orders are either far outdated or non-existent, and in some areas, the department doesn’t currently meet even "basic standards" for written directives, the report says. As a result, it sends a message to employees that following those directives is not important or even expected, the report concludes.

Staffing in the records room should be increased. When PERF tried to look at solvability rates for crimes, the department couldn’t provide it because it has a two-year backlog. The city supplies statistics for neither the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Report, which examines trends nationwide, nor the National Incident-Based Reporting System, the report says.

Make mid-level promotions of supervisors and provide ongoing training department-wide. In a recommendation Fraser called urgent, the department should start conducting annual performance reviews to provide officers with feedback on their performance and where they fall short. Currently, officers rarely get feedback on the quality of their work, he said.

City officials have said that isn’t done because of concerns that a written review would be a public document under state Freedom of Information laws.

New Haven Register

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