New Haven CT April 24 2021
School security officers and 911 dispatchers are tired and angry and they’ve turn to
a national union for help.
That’s what Lore Lichtenberg, president of Local 884 union, told the Public Safety Committee of the Board of Alders at a virtual public hearing “on the working conditions of school security officers and the staff in the public safety access point department,” or PSAP (the 911 call center).
Lichtenberg requested the hearing to speak on a number of issues, ranging from general feelings of exhaustion to allegations of workplace violence from supervisors. She said that she sought a hearing “because we need traction to resolve workplace violence complaints.”
While the alders lack jurisdiction on the issue, they are able to “ask for commitments by parties involved” and subpoena officials if need be, according to Quinnipiac Meadows Alder Gerald M. Antunes, chair of the committee.
At Tuesday night’s virtual hearing, Lichtenberg first presented the concerns of the school security guards, a situation that she called “very serious.”
While their job was historically stable, that has changed under Thaddeus Reddish, director of security for New Haven public schools, Lichtenberg claimed. Under his supervision, 10 long-term officers have retired and resigned, Lichtenberg said, stemming from a culture of favoritism, hostility, intimidation, and retaliation.
She said multiple officers have instituted complaints that are slowly making their way through the city’s labor relations department. Lichtenberg argued the investigations are moving too slowly.
“We’re in limbo, can’t get resolutions on this,” she said. “It really has become a very toxic environment. People are afraid to speak up and say there’s a problem because they’re so afraid of retaliation.”
Although Reddish, a former assistant police chief, was invited and notified of the hearing multiple times, according to chair Antunes, he did not appear.
City Labor Relations Director Cathleen Simpson did appear at the meeting. She told the committee that she had “obviously a different perspective in terms of the state of labor relations and pending matters.” Namely, she said, investigators have “not been dragging our feet” but rather have been working hard on the multiple investigations.
She cautioned the alders on jumping to any conclusions before the investigations are finished, so as to make sure that no one’s due process rights are violated.
“I’m not saying we’ve been fast, that we haven’t had delays. I appreciate so much the frustration … that has been expressed,” Simpson said. “I understood and hope we can alleviate this frustration moving forward.”
West Hills/West Rock Alder Honda Smith referenced the city’s “zero tolerance” policy on workplace violence.
“It bothers me when I receive a letter saying that a supervisor threatens an individual with a gun,” Smith said. “It bothers me to the fact that nothing was done to prevent it from escalating any more.”
Lichtenberg also presented concerns to the committee about treatment of 911 operators. (The Independent previously wrote about such concerns here.)
The training process, Lichtenberg claimed, is inordinately long, requiring three to five years before operators are truly proficient.
“On a basic level, core employee needs are not met,” she said, adding that operators often have to take on last-minute, additional shifts, causing stress, resentment, and a “lost spirit of congeniality.”
Jeffrey Patton and George Peet address 911 dispatcher concerns.
PSAP Director George Peet told the committee that, like Lichtenberg, he has “the best interest of our operators at heart.” Like Simpson, he said he needs time to investigate and address specific complaints.
Deputy Director Jeffrey Patton added the department is down seven positions, which is “felt very, very hard.” He said that he is currently working to try and shorten the training period.
“We think we can come together to make a good plan for a solution and put it into play,” Patton said.
The alders on the committee all agreed that the concerns regarding both the security officials and the 911 officers are serious. They offered differing views on the committee’s role in moving that process forward.
In the discussion portion of the hearing, they focused on the security officials, as it seemed as though Lichtenberg and Patton appeared willing and able to work together on PSAP concerns.
Beaver Hills Alder Brian Wingate proposed a second, public hearing with Reddish and Board of Education officials, “so that we can sit down and understand what’s going on.” He also proposed that the committee ask for a copy of the zero-tolerance policy and sit down with the corporation counsel’s office to see exactly what authority the committee has and what members can publicly ask.
Smith noted that holding a hearing could protect the city from lawsuits in relation to the “zero-tolerance” policy.
“We really do need to address these issues and might need to revamp the policy or make some changes,” she said. “Are [supervisors] following proper procedures and protocols in regard to all these steps?”
Downtown Alder Abigail Roth disagreed with the prospect of an additional hearing. “Much of the conversation today was about the underlying issues,” she said, arguing that the Board of Alders is not the proper forum to address the complaints.
Ultimately, the motion for a second hearing and request for the policy passed, with Roth and Hill Alder Kampton Singh voting against.