A Redding Cop tells it like it is…

Sgt Mark Deluca, a 25 year veteran of the Redding Police Department responds to recent conversation about the Redding Police Department. 

As I follow the opinions of a handful of people interested in restructuring the Redding Police Department I find the discussion to be bitter sweet. On the one hand, I pray every day that you and your family will never need me. On the other hand, I am saddened that you don’t know me or Redding’s other amazing public safety professionals that serve your community every day.  Open dialogue is good. Requesting that your government is fiscally responsible is good. But, in this case, misinformation and/or a misunderstanding of the services provided to you are not… There are common misconceptions that under the State Trooper Program that was in place prior to 2002 Redding did not have its own police officers, that auxiliary police officers are not volunteers, that staffing levels have increased too dramatically, and that adequate emergency services can be provided with even less staff than that of which was present decades ago.

I hope to bring a more qualitative perspective to this discussion and mean no insult to anyone’s opinion. I am a “townie.” I grew up in Redding and graduated from Joel Barlow High School. I was an auxiliary police officer with the Redding Police Department before becoming a full time Redding Police Officer in 1993. I worked under the Resident State Trooper Program for nearly a decade and I proudly continue to serve you today. I’ve even disagreed with my chief on how to best police “my town.”  I know from experience that there were severe deficiencies in the State Trooper Program, that consisted of only 5 fewer officers than are employed at the Redding Police Department today. I have witnessed the demands for emergency services in our town change, and hopefully I will be able to shed some light on the quiet vitality of our police department. If you find the time (and patience) to read my story about the town that I will always consider home, maybe you will see the Redding Police Department as more than an unnecessary expense.

The Gilbert and Bennett Wire Mill brought my Italian immigrant family to Georgetown in 1955. As a young child I remember the mill, the labor strikes and all the Georgetown “watering holes” that served the employees of the mill. Redding was primarily a blue collar town back then, made up of tradesmen that had moved up from the Norwalk area.  If your dad was a pilot for TWA and you lived on Drummers Lane, you were considered to be a rich kid. Cows still grazed in town and I remember my mother having to wait for Mr. Ryder’s herd to cross Umpawaug Rd before we could continue our road trip to the Country Emporium.  Maybe life was a little different back then, maybe not?

I was a teenager in the early to mid 80’s and that’s when I had my first “experience” with the Redding Police Department.  I didn’t know we participated in a Resident Trooper Program, I never met the trooper. I only knew of the “Redding Cops” that my naive teenage self thought, “had nothing more important to do in this nothing town except harass me and my friends.” My friends and I were not angels and in retrospect, it was right for the police to “harass” us.  We would “prank” the police occasionally, taking the license plates off their cruisers, removing the flag from the pole in front of the police station and letting Warrup’s cows out of the barn just to watch the cops herd them off of Lonetown Road. We didn’t do it to be spiteful or hateful. We did it because we were kids. We did it because we could…

Go Falcons! My time as a student-athlete at JBHS was an amazing one that I’ve chosen to remember with pure nostalgia. It was a time of innocence and unawareness of the world around me. In hindsight, maybe I was too naive. Many of the muddied 4×4 pickup trucks parked in the student lot were equipped with rifle racks displaying Winchester 30-06 hunting rifles needed to take down that elusive buck. I knew of 4 teaches involved in sexual relationships with my classmates.  Alcohol, marijuana and even narcotics were accessible and present at every “party”. Underage drinking was the activity of choice on the weekends and you could always find a good “kegger” in the woods off of Hopewell, Costa Lane or George Hull. The old farm that is now home to Meadow Ridge was a great place to find hundreds of kids from Redding or Weston enjoying a keg or two. Bullying, hazing and sexual harassment were condoned behaviors and sometimes perpetrated by our teachers and coaches. I even remember seeing my friend’s mother take a back hand to the face from his intoxicated father only to get a second one after the police had left their home. Thank god there was no such thing as a readily accessible cell phone or internet…

It’s fascinating how “fate” can influence your life. I had graduated from college and was living back home when I met it. Fate came to me disguised as a Redding Police Officer who had asked me if I would be interested in making some extra money.  The officer explained that the department was looking for young volunteers that could assist the department with traffic jobs that the regular officers couldn’t fill. He explained that as an auxiliary police officer I wouldn’t have arrest powers; I would have to purchase my own equipment; I would have to volunteer my services and that I would be paid through an administrative agreement between the town and the private contractor for any hours I worked as a traffic agent.  Like any broke young adult, I eagerly accepted the opportunity to make some extra money.

I had no intention of ever becoming a police officer before that day. But after spending a lot of time with the officers on patrol, I became hooked on the adrenaline, service and challenges the job presented. A drug induced stabbing on Stepney Rd, a bar fight at the Georgetown Saloon; a high speed chase into Westport … sign me up! The degree in Health and Fitness Education that my parents just paid for wasn’t ever going to be put into use. I wanted to be a police officer.

I joined Redding’s Police Force in 1993 (can’t believe it’s been 25 yrs). I graduated from the Connecticut Police Academy and took my place as the newest of the eleven full time officers on the department. The Resident Trooper was our department head. We had an emergency communications center with three full time Dispatchers and six part time Dispatchers, a full time animal control officer who had two assistants, a part time secretary and 8 auxiliary police officer volunteers. I quickly realized that I would be spending most of my weekends breaking up fights at the Georgetown Saloon or Woodland Drive, and I loved it.

I worked under the State Police Resident Trooper Program for nearly a decade. During that time the department had seven different department heads. I can tell you that only one of the seven troopers I ever worked for truly cared about the Town of Redding and its residents (Shoutout to Weston Police Chief Ed Henion).  Redding’s partnership with the State’s Resident Trooper Program could be characterized as the relationship between a bastard child and his pretentious parents. The deficiencies of the Resident Trooper Program were aired, at noisome, publicly and in committee two decades ago and I have no intent to disparage the program today.

A frantic 911 call in 1998 changed everything. A seven year old West Redding boy had fallen and struck his head, causing him to lose consciousness and seize. Training inadequacies with dispatch, a lengthy EMS response and neglect to adequately train police officers exposed the failures of Redding’s emergency services to the public.

Redding’s newly formed Public Safety Committee studied the town’s emergency services for nearly two years. The committee’s recommendations were implemented in two phases. Short term improvements were implemented quickly and included; advanced training of dispatchers in emergency medical dispatch, training and equipping police officers as medical first responders, equipment improvements to the radio system, technology and other officer safety concerns, the hiring of a communications supervisor to oversee training and management of the dispatch center and the replacement of the Trooper with a CSP (Connecticut State Police) Sergeant to address supervisory and process deficiencies. The long term recommendation of the committee was to proceed to an autonomous Redding Police Department and to conduct a feasibility study to do so. The Police Foundation (New York) was later hired to perform that task.

The CSP Sergeant assigned to the town was a nice enough guy but like those before him, he had no vested interest in the town. He was nearing the end of his career and like any good public employee he was working hard to build up his pension. What did that mean for Redding? It meant that he was rarely here, working all over the state but not where you needed him to be.

The Police Foundation Study presented three policing models for the town. The first model proposed the formation of a regional police department with neighboring towns. This model was rejected by our neighbors. The second model required significant changes to the Resident Trooper Program. This model was rejected by the State Police. The third model recommended the formation of an autonomous police department liken to Easton and Weston. This model would eventually prevail and the events of September 11, 2001 solidified the need to do so.

The events of 9/11 brought fear and uncertainty to every town in the nation and Redding was no exception. The State Police had mobilized all of their manpower to serve the needs of the State, placing troopers at soft targets, transportation sites and infrastructure concerns. Redding was essentially left without leadership or direction. Town administrators were unable to find their “department head” and if not for the leadership of our Volunteer Fire Departments, the chaos that followed the days and months after 9/11 would have been unmanageable.  A town referendum later declared the overwhelming support for an autonomous Redding Police Department.

Chief Fuchs became the department head of the police department in July of 2002. He immediately assumed the management responsibility for four full time police supervisors, eight full time patrol officers, a full time communications supervisor, three full time Dispatchers, six part time Dispatchers, a full time animal control officer, two assistant animal control officers, a part time secretary and 9 auxiliary police officer volunteers.

Great improvements in the delivery of police services progressed over the next decade and your police department earned the proud distinction of being one of the few police agencies in the state to be accredited. Officers received training in many advanced areas including accident reconstruction, financial crime investigations, computer forensic analysis, crisis intervention and critical scene management. Supervisory, investigative and equipment deficiencies were addressed. And policy and protocol improvements were implemented.

Manpower levels grew at a similar pace as it did under the Resident Trooper Program with two additional officers added to the department over the decade. A public response to the neighboring 2012 Sandy Hook Massacre disproportionately drove up police staffing levels to provide a police presence in the schools. The Chief  currently has the management responsibility for five police supervisors, 9 patrol officers, a detective, a school resource officer, a full time animal control officer, a communications supervisor, 4 full time dispatchers, two part time Dispatchers, a part time school security officer and 9 auxiliary police officer volunteers.

So why the poor attempt at a Pulitzer? The answer is twofold. First, I just wanted you to know at least one of the officers serving your town. Secondly, I wanted to bring awareness to how and why we are here…

The population of Redding has only increased by about 2,000 people since the days of my youth. Yet, the composition of the town, society’s tolerances and mandated demands on police services have changed expeditiously since then. Gone is the open field that was home to the many parties of my youth. On it stands a sprawling senior living complex with hundreds of residents and employees that draws police services almost daily. Gone are the fist fights at the Georgetown Saloon which have since been replaced by complex internet and fraud investigations. The “non incidents” I experienced as a teenager would now be considered serious or critical incidents. Can you imagine if students were in possession of firearms on school grounds today?  What do you think that police response would look like? Today, a teacher engaged in a sexual relationship with a student is a felonious sexual assault regardless of the child’s age. This “rape” would take dozens of hours of investigation, forensic interviews and media management. Harassment of any kind would result in detailed reporting and subsequent litigation. The domestic assault I witnessed as a juvenile is now a complex and mandated investigation that requires many hours to conclude.

The demands on your police officers today are not the same as they were decades ago.  For example, the domestic assault investigation I was witness to in 1983 would have read something similar to this today, “Caller reports that his mother was struck in the face by his intoxicated father. Officer observed bleeding to Victim’s nose. Victim refused to press charges against the advice of the officer. Case Closed.”

That same investigation today includes: an on scene investigation (photos & interviews), an EMS evaluation of victim’s injury, the custodial arrest and transport of the offender, a lethality risk assessment for victim, referrals/calls to victim service organizations, development of a victim safety plan, DCF notification, the booking and processing of offender, a suicide assessment of offender, the confiscation of firearms and ammunition from the home, the inventory and storage of said firearms and ammunition, the inventory of prisoner property, preparation of court documents, the bonding out of or arraignment of prisoner, overnight prisoner watch, transportation of prisoner/documents to court, the receipt of protective orders, assisting offender with a onetime removal property from the home and the actual writing of the incident report.

The State is in financial crisis and continues to place more mandates, regulations and services upon municipalities. Taxpayers obviously want more services for less cost (I’m a taxpayer too). This is understandable and worthy of debate. But to think that a model and police staffing level used decades ago could service the town’s needs today is unrealistic, will certainly reduce services and puts the public and first responders at risk.

Deepest Regards,
Sgt Marc DeLuca #109
Redding Police Department (25 yrs)