NEW HAVEN, CT – The police union’s president called on the mayor to establish whether the chief is leaving New Haven for good after clearing out his office and heading to Chicago for an extended break, while a mayoral candidate went further.
Those were the latest developments as rumors swirled around town about another pending shake-up at the city’s police department.
Chief Frank Limon left Friday for “several weeks” to deal “with family and health issues” and attend a conference, Mayor John DeStefano announced.
Assistant Chief John Velleca has been appointed acting chief in Limon’s absence.
“John DeStefano is lying about the future of Chief Limon in order to cover his political hide. He needs to quit playing politics with our safety by playing fast and loose with the truth,” Jeffrey Kerekes charged in a statement issued Sunday night. Kerekes is running as an independent against DeStefano in the Nov. 8 mayoral election.
Limon has left town for Chicago before, on a regular basis. But this time was different: Before he left, he packed most of his belongings in boxes. By Friday afternoon the photographs were gone from the walls, according to eyewitnesses. His desk was cleared. Most of the office had been emptied out.
“Does that sound like a guy who’s just leaving for a little while to take care of some business?” Arpad Tolnay, president of AFSCME Council 15 Local 530, the city’s police union, asked Saturday night.
“Call it a hunch,” Tolnay said—that the chief is gone for good.
“I challenge the mayor to say Chief LImon will be back,” Tolnay remarked.
“I’m not going to respond” to that comment, DeStefano said Saturday night.
“Frank is still the chief of the department. There is nothing that is imminently going to happen” to change that, DeStefano said.
“He still has personal effects in his office,” he added.
Limon could not be reached for comment Saturday night.
He came to New Haven 19 months ago to take over the department. He has a four-year contract. He succeeded James Lewis, another chief who came from out of town. Lewis served as chief for 20 months in what was always considered a temporary assignment; Lewis came in with a mandate to clean up a department reeling from a federal corruption investigation.
In recent months, as murders and shootings have escalated in New Haven, the mayor has played an active, direct role in the department’s affairs. Besides being under pressure about the violence during an election year—the mayor’s opponent has criticized Limon’s performance and his absences—the chief has been away from his family; his wife and son have remained in Chicago.
“When we have murders every other week, we do not need an absentee chief running our police department, or a stand in without the full authority to make changes and manage that department,” Kerekes said in his statement. “That DeStefano thinks this is fine shows how disconnected he is from us after 18 years in office.”
“Without any experience, Mr. Kerekes has to resort to creating political theater in order to garner attention for his campaign,” responded DeStefano campaign manager Danny Kedem. “He doesn’t have the experience to talk about solutions to the city’s issues that matter most to members of the community, like creating jobs, improving education, and building a safer community.”