May 22--NEW BRITAIN -- Chief William Gagliardi is ending his 41-year career on July 1, leaving behind a police department that's been hammered by two years of federal lawsuits, scandals, resignations, rocky morale and bitter infighting.
Gagliardi, who has run the department for a little more than six years, submitted a retirement notice Monday, the city announced.
Gagliardi's departure will leave Mayor Tim O'Brien's administration free to rebuild a police command staff that's been gutted by relentless crises and steadily worsening disharmony in the understaffed department.
O'Brien said he'll have someone in place by July 1 to run the operation, but mayoral aide Phil Sherwood wouldn't specify whether it will be an interim leader or a long-term replacement. By one account, city leaders have already talked with at least two higher-ranking officials or retirees from other agencies about the job.
"Two months from now, the command staff won't look like it does -- in organization or personnel," one city official said.
Officers have been speculating for weeks on whether the next chief will be promoted from the ranks or hired from outside New Britain. Some fear the agency's reputation has been so battered by high-profile misconduct that O'Brien's administration will feel forced to bring in an outsider. Many are hoping the job will go to acting Capt. James Wardwell, a respected investigator with a reputation for high ethical standards.
Gagliardi and his right-hand supervisor, Capt. Dennis Beatty, have long been criticized for failing to look into what's going wrong in the department. Wardwell, in contrast, relentlessly pursued a serious misconduct investigation last summer that led to the retirement of 41-year-old Capt. Anthony Paventi, who had been seen as a rising star. The city is still fighting to keep secret exactly what Wardwell found out; The Courant is pursuing a freedom of information case to release the 2-inch-thick report he wrote.
In a statement Monday, O'Brien said nothing about Gagliardi's recent woes, and instead praised him for decades of service to the city.
"Chief Gagliardi is clearly a guy who not only cares deeply about public safety but loves New Britain," O'Brien said. "He's had to work under some tough conditions, down significant staff, and did so with professionalism and efficiency."
O'Brien announced he will seek to have the nearly completed $39 million police headquarters downtown named after Gagliardi. The chief's supporters credit him with leading the campaign to construct the gleaming four-story building, and with heading New Britain's drive toward more computerized crime analysis and data-based deployment of patrol officers.
"Chief Gagliardi is a great man who had a positive influence on our community, bringing its neighborhoods and people together," council Majority Leader Suzanne Bielinski said Monday.
Gagliardi will leave with a $78,600-a-year pension.
He served in the Army during the Vietnam War and was hired as a patrol officer in 1971. He steadily rose to become chief in 2006 under then-Mayor Timothy Stewart, who described him at the time as one of the department's "shining stars."
Stewart later stood by Gagliardi as several female officers filed federal lawsuits alleging sex discrimination, and was still defending him last summer after Officer Armando Elias went public with complaints about lax supervision, favoritism and widespread poor morale.
"These problems are created by a few disgruntled employees," Stewart insisted at the time. "It's a small problem at best."
However, a federal judge recently concluded that there's enough merit in the lawsuits for the cases to proceed, and city lawyers have stepped up their efforts to negotiate settlements.
Meanwhile, the exodus of young officers quitting to work elsewhere has worsened in the past year. Critics say poor leadership is at least partly to blame. The resignations, coupled with a long-term hiring freeze under Stewart's administration, have left the department about 30 officers short of full staffing. On Monday, a patrol officer with less than three years on the job resigned.
Some officers blame the command staff for failing to deal with internal quarreling, which has ballooned in the past year. In a Jan. 26 letter to Gagliardi, veteran Sgt. Michael Baden complained of a flurry of unfounded internal accusations against him.
"The incidents I am documenting here are contributing to a hostile working environment," according to the letter, which was released last week through a freedom of information request. "Our officers cannot be expected to work in an environment in which they have to fear their colleagues personally attacking them with lies that can potentially damage their careers."
Copyright 2012 - The Hartford Courant, Conn.