Off the Record: Our Police, Our City – Chiefs Higgins and Esserman Discuss Community Policing

September 6, 2013

By Christian Vazquez

At Mory’s last month, New Haven and Yale Police Chief’s Dean Esserman and Ronnell Higgins participated in a panel entitled, “Off the Record: Our Police, Our City.”  During the dinner, which is part of a monthly speaker series, they detailed the type of policing that the New Haven Police Department (NHPD) and Yale Police Department (YPD) employ in keeping the community safe. The central theme of the panel was the importance of localism and the value of developing a sense of community.

Esserman emphasized the importance of community policing and referred to New Haven’s focus on having police officers walking their beats and getting to know the area they patrol. “You talk to who you know,” said Chief Esserman. Throughout the presentation, Esserman and Higgins delved into the philosophy of policing in which officers are part of the community rather than an occupying force. They credited the decline of crime in New Haven to this approach being implemented by the NHPD in 1991 during the administrations of Mayor John Daniels and NHPD Chief Nick Pastor. “Ultimately, the police are there to make everyone’s life better, [we] can’t do that if [we] are seen as an occupying force or separate from the community,” Esserman said.

Higgins and Esserman have deep roots in the Elm City and acknowledge that taking an interest in being part of the community is crucial toward building trust between officers and residents. Before becoming Chief of Police of New Haven, Esserman had served as Assistant Chief of Police in New Haven from 1991 to 1993 during the crucial years in which community policing was implemented and returned in 2011 after serving as Chief of Police of Providence, Rhode Island. Chief Higgins is the son of a former Hamden police officer and joined the YPD in 1997 after serving as a corrections officer with the State of Connecticut.  In 2008 he was promoted to Assistant Chief and in 2011 to Chief.

Both chiefs also mentioned the importance of collaboration between Yale and New Haven and how their departments meet weekly to analyze crime statistics or discuss upcoming large events.  When asked about what it’s like to be the Yale’s Police Chief with another parallel department in New Haven Chief Higgins said, “Yale University is so intertwined into the fabric of New Haven,”—emphasizing the crucial partnership between both departments.