A Safer Mayor, At What Cost? - NBC Connecticut

A Safer Mayor, At What Cost?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    he NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters break down how much the New Haven mayor’s police detail is costing taxpayers. (Published Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014)

    One year after the return of a full-time police detail for New Haven’s mayor, the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters take a look at how much it's costing city taxpayers, and Mayor Toni Harp will not comment on the numbers.

    According to Chief Investigative Reporter Len Besthoff, the money spent on Harp's police detail is only part of the issue. The other factor is that the detail takes officers off the streets in a city with an undermanned department that is fighting a lot of crime.

    For 16 hours of her long workday, a New Haven police officer is protecting Harp, picking her up in the morning, following her step by step during the day and dropping her off at night. When she’s in the office, he is on guard right outside.

    Soon after the 67-year-old Harp was elected last year, a police detail for the mayor was reinstated in the Elm City, at the suggestion of Chief Dean Esserman, for the first time in roughly two decades.

    “The chief stated that at his suggestion Mayor Harp had reluctantly accepted the department providing her a driver. This had been the tradition, ” according to police commission minutes from Jan. 14.

    Longtime New Haven taxpayer Jim Lundrigan said the tradition is perhaps an expensive one.

    “They'd be better utilized back on the street. That's easy. That's a no-brainer," Lundrigan said.

    When we caught up with Esserman during a small business event. He agreed to sit down for an interview, but his office has been unresponsive in setting a time.

    Another potential factor in bringing back the mayor’s security detail may have been an incident that happened during Harp’s campaign for mayor, when vandals broke two windows at her Whalley Avenue headquarters.

    Campaign manager Jason Bartlett saw the damage.

    “I was just walking up the sidewalk and I saw the shattered glass and I knew something had happened,” Bartlett explained.

    At the time Harp’s police detail was recommended, the price tag was not known. Figures for the first half of this year that the city provided through a Freedom of Information request give some idea:

    • Each officer makes a little over $1200 per week, or about $42,000 for both officers through six months, since the second officer started in May.
    • Overtime for those six months was also $42,000.
    • That totals to more than $80,000 for the detail in the first six months of this year.

    The mayor’s spokesman said the second officer eliminates most overtime, bringing annual salary costs for the two-man detail down to $128,000. But don’t forget, this does not include benefits, or the cost of the mayor’s $33,000 Ford Expedition.

    Also, the police union warns that with the mayor working most weekends, overtime will not be eliminated, just reduced.

    Elm City Local President Lou Cavaliere, Jr. said that aside from the six-figure price tag, the mayor’s security detail is taking officers off the streets, in a city with its share of crime, in a department that says it is 100 officers below the 495 it is authorized to have.

    “It’s a tough juggle for this administration. This would be something for the mayor to explain with the budget and if she really needs these officers,” Cavaliere said.

    But Harp won’t. The Troubleshooters also checked to see if mayors of other large cities nearby have police details.

    Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch does not, and said he usually drives himself around. The same goes for Stamford Mayor David Martin, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, although Segarra will have an officer accompany him on select occasions throughout the year.

    We also reached out to all 30 members of New Haven’s Board of Aldermen for comment on Harp’s security detail, but not one would comment.

    The Troubleshooters also compared the cost of Harp’s security detail with those of other cities in around the country.

    • The city of New Haven, with a population of 131,000, said the salaries for two officers to protect Harp will cost a projected $128,000 per year.
    • In Detroit, Michigan, a city of 689,000, the mayor’s security detail is almost $2 million in taxpayer dollars per year, according to city documents.
    • In Fort Worth, Texas, with a population of 792,000, city officials said the mayor’s police detail has an annual price tag of $230,000.
    • In Jacksonville, Florida, population 842,000, the mayor’s police detail costs an estimated $330,000 per year, according to a proposed city ordinance.