NEW LONDON – Coming amid a notably rancorous time for the city’s police department, Sgt. Josh Bergeson and others who spoke to CT Examiner on Monday said his election as president of the officers’ union signals a desire in the force for a change of direction and approach from previous union leadership.
The 37-year-old Bergeson said one of his immediate goals is to move the department past the fallout over a recent flurry of lawsuits and internal accusations alleging gender and racial discrimination by a small group of supervisors, as well as the still-cloudy suspension last month of the city’s first Black police chief.
“The complaints and the investigations are a tricky thing to navigate and I am definitely going to make an effort to try to improve morale,” Bergeson said in a telephone interview with CT Examiner. “We’re in a very strong personality profession, but at this point we have to put personalities and personal relationships aside.”
Bergeson said the 32-17 vote in his favor last week was in large part due to the majority of officers’ belief that the union’s previous leadership favored some members of the force over others.
“They wanted a change from what was happening,” he said. “They felt there wasn’t much transparency and equal representation from the union. My job is to ensure that every union member has equal and fair representation.”
City police officer and State Rep. Anthony Nolan, an outspoken critic of what he calls a small clique of officers at the center of the turmoil, was typically blunt in his assessment of what led to Bergeson’s victory.
“Josh was elected because he is not one of those guys that were in the clique – he was one who spoke up against them within the station,” Nolan said. “This is a definite shift away from the good ol’ boys.”
An ex-Marine who has been with the department for 14 years, Bergeson comes from a family long-involved in local law enforcement. His father, Axel, was a city police lieutenant and his brother Todd has been on the force for 24 years.
He won the Nov. 10 election over officer Anthony “Buzz” Buzzelli, who was appointed interim president by the union’s executive board in July after the retirement of former president Officer Todd Lynch.
Lynch is named in some of the internal complaints.
“A lot of the members didn’t like that Buzz was appointed instead of elected,” Bergeson said.
He cited the ongoing suspension of Chief Brian Wright after only three months in the post as another element “hanging in limbo” that he will have to deal with.
Wright was put on administrative leave by Mayor Michael Passero on Oct. 6 – the same day an internal complaint of an undisclosed nature was filed against him that has been characterized by Nolan as sabotage.
Wright had replaced Chief Peter Reichard, who was accused of failing to act on various internal investigations and who resigned after secretly-recorded audio surfaced of him making derogatory remarks about the city and complaining that he was passed over for earlier promotions in favor of minority candidates.
Passero has defended Wright’s leadership and said he expects him to be back on the job soon.
On Monday, the Mayor said an investigation into the complaint against Wright by a law firm hired by the city is in its final stages and should be concluded in about two weeks.
Passero indicated that he is enthusiastic about the change in union administration.
“I congratulate Sgt. Bergeson on his election and look forward to a positive relationship with the new union leadership,” he said in a statement.
In Wright’s absence, Passero last month appointed former Hartford deputy chief Neville Brooks to temporarily oversee the department.
Brooks said Monday that he embraces the change in union leadership brought by Bergeson’s election.
“I recognize that this is an opportunity to develop a new relationship, regardless of what the old one may have been,” he said.
Passero also revealed on Monday that the complaint against Wright that led to his suspension was filed by officer Jeffrey Kalolo, who late last month was demoted from lieutenant to sergeant after an investigation concluded he harassed and discriminated against a female detective who later sued him.
The demotion sparked more controversy recently after some officers circulated hats and T-shirts in support of Kalolo that bear the slogan “464 Was Done Wrong,” referencing Kalolo’s badge number.
The episode has prompted contentious debate on a local social media site that often posts on police department issues and whose administrator has indicated support for Kalolo – and called on Nolan to weigh in on the matter.
“To go to this level to further intimidate and retaliate against a female officer that made a complaint through the right channels is despicable,” Nolan responded on his Facebook page for state representative, adding that he believes Bergeson will not “coddle” those who intimidate other officers as he says the previous union leadership did. “Poor display of weak men trying to continue the harassment and intimidation of a female in a man-dominated field.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected to reflect Todd Lynch’s rank in the department