Karl Jacobson, a 15-year veteran of the New Haven Police Department, was sworn in as the city’s new police chief by New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker during a ceremony at City Hall on Wednesday.
After a long wait for permanent leadership, New Haven finally has its new top cop, who said he plans to focus less on making arrests and writing tickets and more on connecting with the community, preventing crimes, practicing accountability and building trust at a time when the department is facing scrutiny.
Jacobson, who has been serving as assistant chief of the department, said he hopes to build a police department that the entire city can trust. This coming at the same time family members of Richard “Randy” Cox are calling for accountability after Cox was paralyzed while in New Haven police custody on June 19.
“I want all parts of the New Haven community to feel safe when the police arrive, that is our goal,” Jacobson said. Under his leadership, he said the department will do things differently than it has in the past.
“Our measures of success will not be the number of arrests we make or the number of traffic citations we issue, but rather our interactions with the community and the reduction of crime, fear and disorder in New Haven,” he said.
The mayor said he is confident that Jacobson is the right choice to lead the department, adding that he and Jacobson “share a similar vision for public safety: one that centers on community policing.”
The chief plans to create data-driven policing strategies, use data to identify threats and implement new problem solving techniques for officers — who he vowed will be properly trained, supported and held accountable — to employ in the field.
[ Lawyers, family members of man paralyzed in police custody call for justice and humanity ]
Jacobson called on his officers to report for duty each day with integrity, confidence, courage, committee, compassion, restraint and respect.
Elicker said that Jacobson’s time on the police force in New Haven has so far afforded him countless opportunities to connect with the community, to commiserate with people who face challenges, and to show them at any moment he is ready to show up at the scene to respond to a call to engage with people, even though these conversations can be very difficult and challenging.
“What I think Chief Jacobson’s real value is that he is open, kind-hearted and very genuine,” said Elicker. “He’s built relationships with people in this community over many, many years.”
Jacobson’s daughter, 18-year-old Kelli Jacobson, participated in her father’s swearing-in ceremony, proudly pinning him before he took his oath. The rising sophomore at the University of New Haven is already following in her father’s footsteps, studying criminal justice with plans to also become a police officer.
She said her father has been focused on strengthening trust between the police force and community members over the course of his career, and she thinks he will only continue to make those connections stronger as chief.
“Building trust is a big thing that he’ll definitely do. He’s always had [the] community on his mind and wants to build bonds with the community,” she said.
[ Three additional New Haven officers on leave following incident that left man possibly paralyzed while in police custody ]
Daniel Hunt, a commissioner for the Hamden Human Services Commission who grew up in New Haven, said he has high hopes for the new police chief.
“I think he’s going to bring stabilization to the police department and the community and help build on that community policing and engagement aspect,” he said. “And I think that things are going to get done and people are going to feel safer.”
The city’s Board of Alders voted unanimously to approve Jacobson for police chief on Tuesday after what the mayor called a challenging process to fill the position. They previously rejected Elicker’s nomination of Renee Dominguez, who has since retired.
The mayor thanked the police department for their professionalism during the long interim and thanked the residents of New Haven for being a part of the “lengthy community input process.”
Elicker said that the city has “gone through many chiefs in the last few years,” which he hopes won’t be the pattern in the future.
“As you can imagine, that can be very disruptive. I believe Chief Jacobson is sticking around for the long term and I think that’s a wonderful thing for the department,” the mayor said.
Jacobson said that, in his first move as police chief, he plans to build a diverse command staff.
“I want a command staff that has different opinions than me,” he said, adding that he wants people surrounding him that will brainstorm different ideas and consider other perspectives that will help him make more informed decisions.
He also wants to address and reduce rates of violence and homicides so that people feel safe.
“Off the bat, we want to keep everybody safe on Friday,” he said, referencing Friday’s planned March for Justice for Randy Cox, which begins at 5 p.m. at the Stetson Branch Library at 197 Dixwell Ave. and ends at the New Haven Police Department. “We want to allow people to have a voice and allow them to protest while also keeping the city safe,” he said.
[ Two New Haven officers placed on leave after man seriously injured, possibly paralyzed, while in police custody ]
The march is being held as the NAACP, Cox’s family members and their attorneys, including civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who represented the family of George Floyd, amplify the story of the 36-year-old New Haven man who was paralyzed after a police officer made a hard stop that sent him flying into the wall of the van headfirst after he was handcuffed and without a seatbelt.
Cox was eventually brought to a hospital where he was paralyzed from the chest down except for some movement in one arm, his family said at a press conference in late June.
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The case is currently under investigation by the Connecticut State Police. At least five police personnel have been put on paid leave while the investigations are ongoing. Jacobson said that the department would take all necessary actions to make sure that what happened to Cox will not happen to anyone else and said that, if criminal charges are deemed necessary, the department will arrest its officers.
On Wednesday, shortly after Jacobson’s swearing-in, U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, Vanessa Avery, issued a statement that her office was closely monitoring the investigation into what happened to Cox.
Avery acknowledged that “all suspects taken into police custody must be afforded timely and appropriate medical care in the event of an emergency.”
Despite his injuries, Cox was taken to a detention facility before he was taken to the hospital, according to records.
Avery said the city’s mayor and the new police chief have “acted expeditiously and reported publicly on some actions already taken at the local level in response to this incident, including the suspension of several officers involved pending further investigation,” and have vowed to reform their department’s practices. She also said that the justice department will take further action regarding Cox’s case if needed.
“If federal action is warranted, the Justice Department will pursue every available avenue to the full extent of the law,” Avery said.