Quinnipiac vice president and chief of staff supports Hamden’s new police chief

Emily DiSalvo, Arts and Life Editor

The Hamden Legislative Council appointed Acting Police Chief John Sullivan as the permanent police chief on Jan. 5, a decision backed by one of President Judy Olian’s closest advisors.

“I have worked with Chief Sullivan as a member of the Quinnipiac/Hamden off campus housing

task force for the past several months. He has proved to be a great partner – and initiated additional cooperation between the Hamden police, community members and our students,” Vice President and Chief of Staff Bethany Zemba said in a public statement submitted to the council. “He has been very helpful in our current covid environment where we imposed stricter limitations on our students for size gatherings, etc.”

The Quinnipiac/Hamden Off-Campus Housing Task Force first met in October 2019 as a way to improve relationships between Hamden and the students living in the town. Representatives from Quinnipiac’s administration, Student Government Association (SGA) and the Hamden Police Department attended the meetings. At the time, the department was headed by former Acting Chief of Police John Cappiello, who Sullivan replaced.

Screenshot from Hamden Legislative Council

“Chief Sullivan is someone with emotional intelligence, is proactive, forward thinking, and will be a great next chief of police for the Town of Hamden,” Zemba wrote in her public statement. 

Sullivan was approved by the council in a 10-4 vote. Dissenters of Sullivan’s appointment opposed not his character or qualifications, but rather the process by which he was selected. 

The town promised to use community discussions and diversity as the foundations for selecting the new chief, by reconvening the “Police Chief Community Input and Transparency Committee.” However, citing a rise in crime and Sullivan’s qualifications, Mayor Curt Leng moved ahead with Sullivan as the only candidate in consideration for the position.

“We have here in Hamden, an individual serving as an acting chief who has checked all of the boxes in real time and with demonstrable results — being the police leader our community has asked for,” Leng said.

While the committee was supposed to be the one identifying top candidates for approval, Leng said he hoped the town would understand his decision given Sullivan’s qualifications. 

Several Democratic organizations in Hamden opposed Sullivan’s nomination because the full selection process was not carried out, and they expressed their concerns in a joint letter to the council.

“The Hamden Police Chief Community Input & Transparency Committee was established to seek recommendations from the community in hiring a new police chief,” the letter read. “This process was not followed through. Many members of the community expressed specifically that diversity be considered in appointing a new police chief.”

Sullivan, who is white, will lead a police force and community still reeling from the shooting of Paul Witherspoon and Stephanie Washington, who are Black. The two were sitting in their car in New Haven when a Hamden police officer opened fire. 

“Slave patrols were among the first public policing organizations formed in the American colonies,” the letter reads. “Hamden must renew its efforts to adequately address racial disparities by searching for a chief of police who is Black.”

Many community members expressed concerns about an increase in crime in Hamden. A press release from the police department indicated a 44% increase in motor vehicle theft from this time last year. Sullivan said he was ready to take action.

“Hopefully the crime does not increase,” Sullivan said. “If it does increase, I have a command staff that will have to come together and come up with some new ideas, but the safety of the members of this community is of the utmost importance to us.”