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New Haven Police Chief Esserman resigns after months of controversy

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NEW HAVEN--After months of controversy, speculation and back-and-forth, New Haven's Police Chief Dean Esserman has resigned.

The resignation became effective September 2, according to a statement from the office of Mayor Toni Harp, and was mutually agreed upon between the chief and mayor.

Assistant Chief Anthony Campbell will continue serving as interim chief of police until a permanent appointment is made.

Esserman released a statement through Mayor Harp's office on Tuesday afternoon:

It has been a privilege to serve Mayor Harp and work alongside the remarkable men and women of the New Haven Department of Police Service, who no doubt have earned the title, 'New Haven’s Finest.' Last and certainly not least, it has been my privilege to serve the wonderful people of New Haven – I am so very grateful for having had this opportunity to do so.

I am confident in the future of the New Haven Police Department because of the excellent leadership, command staff, supervisors, detectives, and patrol officers who serve; day and night they earn the respect and gratitude of those who live in and visit New Haven.

Esserman stopped by police headquarters on Tuesday to formally tell his officers he'd be leaving.

"It was important...very important to me that I give you all the respect you deserve. I wanted to come here in person and thank you for all you do and I wanted you to hear that I’m moving on from me and not a press release," Esserman told officers during a 20-minute speech. New Haven Public Information Officer David Hartman called Esserman's stepping down a "retirement," though Mayor Harp did call it a resignation.

"He actually did a favor for everybody," said Officer Craig Miller, New Haven Police Union president, after the meeting. "Now we can just focus on what we need to do."

"Let's get back to doing police work," added Miller. "Let's protect the community. Let's work with the community. Let's work with each other and get things done here. Too much distraction. Let's end it."

New Haven police officers issued a resounding vote of no-confidence in Esserman in July, and then after another incident with a waitress Esserman was placed on three weeks paid leave in late July. Residents also petitioned for his removal. Then in August, on the day he was set to return, he decided to extend his leave with accrued sick and vacation time that he had. He never returned, leading to further speculation that he'd step down after about five years in the position.

In the middle of August, Mayor Toni Harp said that despite run-ins with a Yale football usher in 2014, a member of Michelle Obama's Secret Service detail a month later in 2014, and just last month the incident in which he berated a local waitress, it had to be Esserman who would decide whether he returned to active duty or not.

"Almost everything that occurred that people complained about happened when he was not on official duty," said Harp on August 17, though she then backed off that statement saying, "Like the mayor, I reminded him that you're always on official duty."

Harp added at that time that she was confident Esserman was taking steps to address his issues and meet 10 mutually agreed to professional goals.

But it wasn't just Esserman's conduct that was at question. It was the officers under his command. Some residents have claimed that on Esserman's watch there have been many occasions where officers were not disciplined for improper arrests.

"Sometimes you can have a nice discussion with him and there's other times when you can't," said union president Officer Craig Miller. "You don't know which Chief Esserman you're going to get that day or that minute."

Esserman is best known for helping reduce the crime rate in the Elm City, especially with his efforts to promote community policing, which were recognized by President Obama just days before his suspension.

Mayor Harp also released a statement when announcing the news Tuesday:

Crime and violence have steadily and consistently decreased in New Haven throughout the nearly five years of Chief Esserman’s tenure and I’m grateful for the chief’s successful legacy. Public safety in New Haven is improved after a return to grass roots community policing, productive partnerships with other law enforcement agencies, and positive interaction with community organizations.

Weekly, data-driven review and analysis of police activity is combined with an expanded use of technology to make New Haven a safer community – trust continues to grow between police officers and the communities they serve. Residents and visitors feel safer and in fact are safer as a result.

PIO Hartman also released a statement:

This afternoon, Chief Dean M. Esserman visited a packed room at Police Headquarters to announce his retirement.

His audience included the department’s command staff, supervisors, detectives, officers and civilians. He spoke briefly about his nearly five years as New Haven’s chief and mainly about his admiration for the dedication of the city’s officers. He noted the sacrifices officers make daily; time away from families; missed vacations and holidays and those middle of the night call-ins.

Chief Esserman acknowledged union leaders in the room and noted their importance. “You see - you care about the best interests of the officers as much as I do”, said Esserman.

“It was important…” said Esserman, “…very important to me that I give you all the respect you deserve. I wanted to come here in person and thank you for all you do and I wanted you to hear that I’m moving on from me and not a press release”, he said.

The chief stood for about twenty minutes and spoke softly but deliberately. He credited the rank-and-file for the successes in crime reduction and fro their part in bolstering community relationships. He closed by circling the room and shaking everyone’s hand.

Those there applauded Chief Esserman and without any podium speeches, returned to work. All of the goodbyes were one to one.