Celebrating Latino Leaders: Luiz Casanova
"We work for the community, they are ‘our boss.’ There has to be some controls put in, but, I think oversight by the community needs to happen.”
Assistant Chief, New Haven Police Department
Hometown: New Haven, CT
New Haven Assistant Police Chief Luiz Casanova wanted to make a difference on the streets where he was raised.
“I came to New Haven when I was 12-years-old so most of my memories are from New Haven. I consider myself a native although I was born in Brooklyn, New York,” explains Casanova. “When I started my career, I wanted to make a difference about the way people in my neighborhood were being treated by law enforcement. One of the things that inspired me to seek a law enforcement career was that I wanted folks of color to have a better experience with the police.”
The 26-year law enforcement veteran, started his career at the State of Connecticut Department of Corrections. It was there where he says he first learned that the prison system was broken.
“[The system is] broken. Not only does it have a huge representation of people of color, but it also has all the wrong people in prison,” Casanova says. “Fifty-seven percent of the population of prisoners are there because of mental health and addiction problems.”
After spending time inside the system as a corrections officer, Casanova decided he wanted to be on the front line. he said, “In order for me to make a real, effective change or have any kind of impact on what I call the “conveyor belts” in the prison system, I had to become a cop.”
“I became a police officer and I spent most of my career putting the right people in prison by policing more intelligently,” Casanova says. “Instead of using the net approach that terrorizes whole neighborhoods, we use a more targeted approach towards people who are actually committing crimes.”
While Casanova’s approach to policing has proved effective, his career had a rough start.
“In the beginning of my career, there was a lot of pressure because I was policing in neighborhoods with people who looked like me. But, I had a job to do,” Casanova remembers. “You know, when you give people a lot of chances, sometimes you have no choice but to put them in jail. It is really not your decision, it is something that the person did that caused you to enforce the law. There is a balance too--you meet great people and you see things that average people don't get a chance to see.”
Casanova has worked hard throughout his career to rise through the ranks, much like his Latino counterparts.
“The Latino community has a lot to offer,” Casanova explains. “They work hard and know the language which is a plus [when you are policing areas] where there is a higher [population] of Latinos. Being able to communicate with people is a must.”
Casanova acknowledges both the opportunities and challenges that the Latino community faces and suggests that more Latinos should put their personal agendas aside and come together to foster the next generation of Latino leaders. For that reason, he is fond of the Progreso Latino Fund (PLF) and their position in the Latino community.
“I think programs like PLF are important because they highlight leadership in the Latino community. They are striving to make the Latino community stronger,” Casanova says. “They are willing to listen and they are a champion, in the current climate. They bring up topics that are current and really important to folks. They have become a teacher for many as well, so they are pretty powerful.”
The Progreso Latino Fund continues to highlight leaders, like Casanova, who are sure to leave a lasting legacy in their communities.
Regarding his personal legacy in law enforcement, “Currently, we're enforcing the law in the name of the community, yet we don't want to let the community in to monitor what happens in policing,” Casanova says. “I want to be one of the guys that changes that. We work for the community, they are ‘our boss.’ There has to be some controls put in, but, I think oversight by the community needs to happen.”
I like helping people. When I say that, [I mean that] police…we really need to change the way we do things. We need to really align community-based policing with community expectations. So, I hope that my legacy is to change policing in America in that direction.”