On a rainy afternoon, New Haven police officers are out talking with the community, looking for the next officers to join their force.
“We just recently put a class of 20 in,” said Sgt. Dana Smith, a recruitment supervisor with the New Haven Police Department. “So ideally that’s what we’re looking for.”
Their search comes at a challenging time nationally. Smith admits it’s a bit harder to get people to consider jobs in law enforcement, but he says New Haven is not like other departments.
“Some people, you know, they look at law enforcement in a different light,” said Smith. “But the men and women of New Haven, they do a phenomenal job day in and day out to maintain the city.”
The department is made up of more than 300 sworn officers, half are women and people of color. They’re looking to add people who are 21 by November, from the neighborhoods they’ll protect and serve.
“We try to get whoever is eligible whether it be Black, brown, Asian, Caucasian, whatever. But as many people from the community we can get, that’s what we try to go for,” Smith said.
The police are one of several city departments squeezed by a tight city budget passed this July. The department was cut by $4 million, and 48 empty positions were eliminated. It was an 11 percent reduction in staff, leaving about 50 positions that need to be filled.
“Too often we put the burden on police officers to be social workers,” said Mayor Justin Elicker Tuesday. He joined with police, other city departments and services to announce a change in how officers respond to 911 calls.
A new Crisis Response Team with community leaders, mental health professionals and others will help take care of calls that may not require law enforcement. Last year, police responded to 11,000 calls that could have been handled by the crisis team.
“This is not what defunding the police looks like, this is about providing the right services and making sure that we’re hitting the mark in what we’re looking to all achieve, which is a better city,” said New Haven Police Chief Otoneil Reyes.