The Connecticut Law Tribune by Karen Lee Torre - December 5, 2011
East Haven’s (now former) Democratic Mayor April Capone got what was coming to her. Last month, the town’s voters booted her out of office, replacing her with Republican Joseph Maturo. A prominent campaign issue was Capone’s treatment of East Haven Police Chief Lenny Gallo, and her consequent squandering of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on what many believed to be a personal feud. That is hardly uncommon. Police chiefs too often find themselves targeted by newly elected mayors who prefer to award the powerful job to a political crony, one who will of necessity be the mayor’s lapdog. With that, a mayor can more easily get tickets “fixed,” protect a relative, crony, or a friend’s kid from arrest, and worse. Capone did not appoint Gallo; she inherited him. Sometimes, a police or fire chief irks union leaders and members by strictly enforcing work rules, and attempting to reign in sick leave and workers’ compensation abuse. The unions give money to the mayor’s campaign, work the polls, and the mayor agrees to get rid of the chief. It has happened. Long ago, and in the public interest, the Connecticut legislature acted on this problem. State law does not permit chiefs to be employed and dismissed at will. It protects them against politicians by requiring just cause for dismissal. A chief has a right to timely and specific charges, and an opportunity to be heard. To further protect chiefs against trumped-up charges of misconduct or contrived allegations of administrative incompetence, a chief may appeal the discharge to superior court, where an impartial judge can review the matter. Gallo joined other of the state’s police chiefs who fought back, including former New Haven chief Ben DeLieto and Hamden’s former chief, John Ambrogio. New Haven voters, upset with how DeLieto was treated, later elected him mayor. For causing and losing a long, costly personal battle against Ambrogio, former Hamden mayor John Carusone became an ex-mayor. At various picnics, parties and retirement dinners over the past year, I had occasion to talk to a lot of East Haveners about this. To a man and a woman, they thought the racial profiling allegations against their police department were crapola, politically motivated, and contrived, and they were furious at Capone for so quickly and without proof aligning herself with those who would profit from making those allegations, at enormous financial risk to taxpayers. For throwing a chief under the bus in the process, she is now out of a job. Good. She deserves it. At a time of fiscal crisis, Capone was burning public money on this feud. New Mayor Joe Maturo promised voters he would stop the nonsense and pull the plug on paying three police chief salaries, and do it quick. He made good on that promise. Noting that no chief should be kept home for a year and eight months without the letter and spirit of the law being followed, Maturo reinstated Gallo. East Haven voters want the laws enforced, criminals nabbed, motor vehicle offenders cited. They don’t want their cops, and more importantly their police chief, to be afraid to do their jobs because of fear of getting sued, fired or accused of “profiling.” Whether Gallo and his officers will succumb to that fear remains to be seen, but I am sure that those who stand to profit one way or the other from racial profiling charges would rather have a collaborating April Capone and a stooge for a police chief. Politicians are responsible for the emerging populations of illegal aliens in our midst. Mayor John DeStefano declared New Haven a sanctuary city, making it a magnet for thousands of illegals, many of them poor. Now his budget officials acknowledge that the city is crumbling under a financially unsustainable “at risk” population. “Racial profiling” has become a political tool used by ethnic groups to instill a fear in cops of being accused of racism if they stop a minority with an expired or phony plate. We need more Frank Rizzos among the ranks of police chiefs. On my summer reading list was a biography of the legendary Philadelphia chief, a gift from his son, Frank Rizzo Jr., now a Republican councilman in Philly. Rizzo was elected mayor despite the hysteria from left-wingers over his aggressive and no-holds-barred law enforcement as chief, and notwithstanding persistent allegations of racial profiling (which Rizzo of course dismissed as expected rhetoric from the guilty). Rizzo couldn’t care less what the liberals said. “When I’m elected mayor,” Rizzo said, “I’m going to give the Henry Avenue Bridge concession to one of the reporters. He’ll charge six-fifty a head to the liberals who want to jump off. He’ll make a fortune.” But of the many notable quotes Rizzo’s biographers attributed to him, the following is an undeniable truism: “Politicians create the problems then leave them in the laps of the police.” - Karen Lee Torre, a New Haven trial lawyer, litigates civil rights issues in the federal courts. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.