New Haven Police Chief’s Tactics Draw Fire, Praise
Police Chief Nicholas Pastore is trading in his force of drug-busting, doughnut-eating militiamen for what he calls social engineers.
The new chief has banned leather driving gloves on police officers as too intimidating and has told the members of his force to steer drug users to treatment programs instead of jails.
He has also told his officers to knock off the frequent coffee-and-doughnut runs during their breaks because it gives them a bad image with the public.
“I want the police to be perceived as a helping-hand agency,” said Pastore, who has been on the job for seven months.
That perception can be bolstered if officers, among other things, help drug users rather than just arrest them, the new chief said.
“We’ve tried the tanks, the helicopters, the big guns for many years. It doesn’t work,” Pastore, 52, said in a recent interview. “I don’t subscribe to the philosophy that the more arrests you make, it’s going to solve the crime problem.”
Arrests in New Haven, a city of 125,000 people, dropped sharply when Pastore discontinued sting operations to round up drug buyers. He has also stopped dispatching teams of officers into high-crime neighborhoods for round-the-clock arrests and disbanded the department’s canine unit.
Instead, he ordered about 20 more officers to walk beats, placed officers at high-visibility posts throughout downtown and made extensive community outreach efforts to end what he calls the “we-they mentality” in drug-infested neighborhoods.
He also walks the streets of crime-plagued neighborhoods himself, frequently striking up conversations with known drug dealers.
“When I’m seen in these neighborhoods, people realize this man cares,” he said.
His actions have brought praise from various members of the public and business community, but have put him at odds with the police department’s union.
A group of downtown merchants recently presented Pastore with a plaque for his efforts to increase police visibility. But Sgt. Louis G. Cavalier, the head of the police officers union, complained that the stepped-up presence has merely provided the community with a “false sense of security.”
Pastore has also won the confidence of at least one drug user’s mother, who called him recently to say she needed to talk to someone she could trust.
The chief believes marijuana use should be decriminalized, and he said his efforts to encourage addicts to seek treatment reflects his belief that the drug problem should be resolved by physicians, not lawyers.
Such views earned him a prominent profile in the August issue of “High Times,” a magazine devoted to marijuana smoking.
Pastore said he didn’t know the free-lance writer who spoke with him was doing the interview for High Times. But he added that he was accurately quoted and had no problems with the story.
His comments in a newspaper interview that there would be fewer coffee-and-doughnut runs now that he was police chief ruffled some feathers in the department. Union officials accuse him of frequently entering restaurants and asking officers what they are doing.
“There is the sense that the chief is on their backs constantly,” Cavalier said.
Pastore said he recalls only one such restaurant incident. He added that his doughnut policy is not an attack on his officers’ work ethic but on the traditional concept of police work.
“Police work should not be just doing what the dispatcher says, then in between going to Dunkin’ Donuts,” he said.
He praises his officers, but dismisses the union’s criticism.
“The union doesn’t care about the public,” he said. “All they care about is what’s good for them. “They have become a group of militant mercenaries.”
Pastore came into office with a mandate to shake up the department and move to a concept of community-based policing, in which officers are assigned to individual neighborhoods. Because of a tight city budget, the new program has gotten off to a slow start.
First-term Mayor John Daniels, a friend since high school, bypassed nearly 20 internal candidates in hiring Pastore, who had spent 18 years with the department before retiring in 1981.