Patrick Harnett couldn't have been any more adamant weeks ago when asked whether he was sticking around after his two-year anniversary as Hartford's top cop.
There was no reason to leave in July, the chief told a smattering of media folks after a promotions ceremony at the Hartford Hilton. He said despite a rash of shootings, overall crime in the city was actually down. Both he and Mayor Eddie Perez were confident that an effective crime-fighting structure was in place.
So, after Harnett's press conference Friday announcing he was stepping aside and Deputy Chief Daryl Roberts was replacing him July 13, I asked Harnett whether he'd changed his mind - or intentionally misled us. Turned out to be the latter.
"You can't do much if you're a lame duck," Harnett said, with that familiar twinkle in his blue eyes. "I was definitely playing coy. I knew for four months what my end date was." Then he added a little zinger to make his point. "Can [outgoing Publisher] Jack Davis make all kinds of changes now over there at The Hartford Courant?"
Harnett said he knew before going on a homeland security-related trip to Israel in late March that he'd be a goner by summer. He said he notified Perez then of his intentions.
OK, I'll try to accept the chief's reasoning. But I hope he can understand why I'm not convinced that this "second retirement" is simply because Harnett turns 63 in September, has an eighth grandchild on the way and a 31-foot sailboat on Long Island Sound with a couple of fishing poles that need his attention.
I think the chief reason Harnett is retiring is because the persistent crush of shootings in the city, which recently subsided, wore him down and out. Rather than stain what has been a stellar 40-year career in policing and a cushy consulting business, Harnett quit.
Running the HPD "was a tougher job than I expected," "Chief Coy" admitted Friday. "There weren't many good managerial systems in place in the department. If you don't have a structure in which you make your leaders accountable, make them responsible and let them lead, it's hard to get things going."
He and Perez believe that foundation is now set. In his 24 months, Harnett fired one cop and suspended 34 without pay. His biggest blunder was promoting to lieutenant a sergeant, whom he'd demoted 18 months earlier in connection with allegations that the supervisor encouraged officers to target blacks downtown.
The chief inherited myriad problems - seasonal shooting sprees, weak internal leadership, a significant core of veterans nearing retirement and a segment of rogue cops. But there would also be an infusion of 200 new officers who'd get direction from a veteran New York City cop.
The plan was for Harnett to jolt the department with discipline, reduce crime, then pass the reins to an heir apparent. Though Harnett and Perez boasted about overall crime in 2005 being down 12 percent, they were misleading us again.
Comparing crime statistics of January-to-May 2004 - just before Harnett was hired - to the same period two years later, shootings are up 74 percent, shooting victims have increased 86 percent, and murders are up 66 percent. Harnett, a noted crime-fighting maven, couldn't get his arms around the street violence in little Hartford. After two years, this once alluring challenge became one that potentially could damage his reputation.
It was time to go fishin'.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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