With his wife and two sons, one of which is a police officer, in the front row, Acting Police Chief John Cappiello was officially sworn as Hamden’s chief of police in at Town Hall on Monday.
He said his biggest challenge will be dealing with Hamden’s tight budget but his greatest opportunity is getting the police department reconnected with the community.
“We need to get back into protecting and serving,” Cappiello told a packed Town Hall. “We aren’t here to over-police a community.”
He said as acting chief he encouraged his patrolmen to spend 15 to 30 minutes of their shift purposefully engaging with the public.
“Get them out of their cars, stop when someone is maybe walking the dog or washing their vehicle and just say hello,” he explained.
Born and raised in Hamden, Cappiello said he was humbled to be chosen as the town’s newest police chief.
“To start as a patrolman in the community that you grew up, couldn’t get any better,” he said.
One challenge he may continue to face is a perception problem with the public. Mayor Curt Balzano Lang admitted the department has a trust issue following an incident in April of 2019.
Hamden Police Officer Devon Eaton fired more than a dozen shots into the back of a car in New Haven that matched the description of one believed to be involved in a robbery, injuring its passenger. As acting chief, Cappiello recommended Eaton be fired, calling him negligent. Right now, he’s on paid leave and will go before the police commission after his criminal trial concludes.
“There are times when you have to work harder on increasing and developing the bonds that you have within the community,” said Balzano.
“There was a trust issue but I think moving forward time will tell, time will tell,” said Hamden resident Terri Askew.
“I have no issue with the police department. I think they’re doing a great job,” added fellow resident Jahmal Freeman.
Askew said there is more progress to be made and pointed to what relationships were like between the public and police when she was growing up.
“We were more friends with the police officers. We knew their names. We had sports and things of that nature and they were always involved. So, a long time ago we trusted the police. This was never an issue,” she said.
Those are the kinds of relationships Cappiello hopes to build in the community.
“We just need to get out there and show people that we’re just no different than anybody else,” he said.
Cappiello’s newest initiative, the town’s first ever gun buyback, will be held on February 15.