The GMW Interview: After a 32 year career with the Wilton Police Department, most recently as acting chief, Robert Crosby⎯who grew up in Wilton⎯ will officially become Police Chief on Sept. 22. GMW.com sat down with him yesterday to talk about his thoughts of where the department will go under his direction and what policing is here in Wilton.
GOOD Morning Wilton: The Police Commission has now officially named you as their selection to be the next chief of police. Congratulations!
Robert Crosby: Thank you!
GMW: And it’s official with the Board of Selectmen?
RC: They voted at their last meeting Tuesday [in executive session] to accept the commission’s recommendation. It’s just a matter of signing the paperwork. If all goes well, the 22nd of Sept. will be my official swearing-in.
GMW: Those are always so personal and moving, with family in attendance. Does it happen in the annex as it does for all the officers?
RC: It’s a little different for a chief. I chose to have it at the Brubeck Room. The community is invited, and it’s mostly family and friends, and members of this department.
GMW: And police chiefs from surrounding towns?
RC: Yes, a lot of the chiefs show up, we’re always there to help each other out.
GMW: That’s always something I’m struck by, the closeness between police officers, the fraternity or brotherhood.
RC: It is a brotherhood, because we know what those other police are going through, no matter if it’s a city, a town. In Wilton, we’re obviously not a murder capitol, but we do deal with the same things that a Norwalk or Danbury or even a Bridgeport deals with, just not as often. We understand what they go through, they understand what we go through.
We all understand how recently we’ve been painted with a broad brush of ‘police officers are racist,’ and ‘we’re not doing our jobs.’ I don’t feel that at all in Wilton or even neighboring towns. It’s unfortunate but we’ll get through it. It’s a pendulum thing–we look bad but we do our job and we continue to do our job well, and people realize, that’s not all police officers. Like any profession.
GMW: Those few stories make the headline, even if they’re few and far between. The majority of police is not like that, I know. You’re putting your lives on the line, for us. Each time you get out of your patrol car, you don’t know what situation you’re walking into.
RC: And that’s the job we chose. We’re happy to do it, and we love to do it. It’s just unfortunate that certain things happen. But like any profession, one bad thing can happen–one bad teacher does something wrong and they don’t paint every teacher with that broad brush. But it seems right now every officer is being painted that way. But I think we’ll get through it and just continue to do our jobs well, as we do in Wilton.
We have a great department here. Every officer, we do our jobs well. Unfortunately we do pull over cars, and sometimes don’t make people happy. But we do that because could you imagine the anarchy that would happen if we weren’t there slowing cars down? We sometimes have to be the bad guy to make sure everybody is safe.
GMW: Road safety seems to be a big topic on the minds of parents these days; I see a lot of chatter about it on social media and it’s definitely a subject Wilton is talking about. Let’s talk about Rte. 7–I understand you’re hearing from residents about some of the more troublesome intersections.
RC: I take any complaint that’s sent to us, all of them, seriously. We have Lt. Conlon who is the person responsible for any selective enforcement. When we look at, say, the Grumman Hill intersection, I have contacted the CT Dept. of Transportation (DOT) about that and we’re working on it. We’re trying to get what’s called “lead-lag phased lighting” in there, that would let the northbound green arrow go into the business [ASML] and then later let the southbound green arrow go into Grumman Hill Rd., to let people waiting southbound to go into Grumman.
The state is a little nervous about that because there is no left turn lane. They’re afraid that somebody is going to turn and another person [headed in the opposite way] is going to turn and they’ll collide into each other. Which is a risk, unfortunately.
There was supposed to be a whole southern Rte. 7 construction, just like they did on the upper part of Rte. 7. Unfortunately, due to finances, the state has stopped that project. But what we’re trying to do is pressure them. We’re working with the state engineer and say that certain intersections they may fix, and that’s one of the first ones I want them to go to.
I’ve asked people on Grumman to send me emails. They’ve been sending emails and it’s helping pressure the state. Today, there were a couple more emails from people who reside on Grumman Hill. It’s been a difficult intersection and it’s been that way for many, many years.
GMW: Do accident records attest to that?
RC: Actually, there were not a whole lot of accidents there. There was one a few years ago when a gentleman was coming out of the ASML and was involved in a fatal accident. There were a couple other, but nothing where you would say, ‘Oh my god, we have to do something right away.’ It’s great that there haven’t been a lot of accidents, but we can’t use that record to say, ‘Come fix it right away.’ The state knows that, they’ve done their studies as well.
I’m working with [my] state [contact], and he’s pushing his supervisor to say this is the first intersection they want to do as well. So I’m hoping to get some good news from him, that I can pass on to all the people who have emailed me.
Unfortunately, the Police Department, or our Traffic Authority, is not in charge of that intersection. We can’t do anything about it, it’s up to the state.
GMW: Are there other intersections? I’ve heard Pimpewaug Rd. and Rte. 7.
RC: We’ve contacted the state about that. When they were redoing Rte. 7, they had considered putting a light there. Their reasoning for not doing that is that there’s a light at School Rd., a light at Station Rd., another light on Rtes. 7 and 33. It would be too many traffic lights that would mess up traffic. So they decided not to do that, only because if you wanted to, you could drive down [Pimpewaug] Rd. and come out Cannon Rd., or come out a little farther and come out Sharp Hill Rd., depending on what side of town you’re coming from. So, they’re pretty adamant about that, they’re not going to put a light there, because there are other avenues not that far away where you can go to get out.
I think we as a town are going to lose that Pimpewaug battle. Number one, if they do put a light there, it’s just going to really hurt the traffic flow there, and as we know that whole section when it comes to school mornings and rush hour, that is very backed up. I don’t think they’ll allow us to do that.
I do understand their argument because I don’t want the flow of Rte. 7 being hurt any more because, as you know if you drive there, it is horrible.
GMW: Speaking of school, I’m hearing a lot about people who pass school buses.
RC: I haven’t heard about an increase in that. But if [school transportation coordinator] Mary Channing or her drivers or the bus company call us and we investigate it, and we have enough information we issue summonses. And it’s a hefty fine. I would tell people to be very careful.
The one issue we were having is by Crowne Pond Rd., the cluster homes, next to the church, where school buses were picking up children on Rte. 7 and people weren’t stopping. So we’ve had officers stationed in the area monitoring that, and I’ve sent out news releases on that as well, recently, because it is a concern. People are in a hurry to get to work in the morning and they get behind that one bus that stops quite often and they get anxious. We’re telling them they have to look at the students.
GMW: What are your thoughts on Wilton’s Security Task Force.
RC: I came into it late; Chief Lombardo was there prior to me. When I got there, I was astonished by how much they accomplished. It’s amazing that this group, it’s a great group of people–very broad in law enforcement, in security, in education. And it’s great to do that. They’ve gotten so much done, by setting up the security in the schools. A lot of it we don’t talk about it, because we can’t. And we’re still progressing with more and more. We’re deep into the Miller-Driscoll project, to make sure it has the security it needs.
Superintendent Kevin Smith is 100 percent making sure all the students are safe, that the employees and teachers are safe. It’s a great group.
I have a deeper history with the schools–I was a youth officer for nine years as well. I love our school system. I love that they trust our officers to go into the schools. We have our school resource officers, Diane MacLean and Rich Ross, they go into the schools and talk with the kids. They’re met with open arms, this administration loves that, and I thank Kevin Smith and his staff for allowing that to happen. There are some towns where they don’t want police officers in the schools.
I loved going into the classrooms and teaching the kids. You walked into the younger classrooms, the elementary school and just because you were wearing this uniform they loved you. But as you moved into the high school, it wasn’t always that way. But I enjoyed some of those classes more. You could tell the younger kids, ‘The sky is pink,’ and they’d say, ‘It is! Because you said it is!’ But you had to convince the older kids–I loved to be able to talk and have classes with them. And to show them what it was like to be a police officer, why the laws are here.
GMW: Your predecessor, Chief Michael Lombardo, wanted to have the officers maintain their visible presence in the community. Talk about what your approach is going to be as chief.
RC: We want to make sure our officers get out of their vehicles and interact with the public. This past weekend I had our canine officer at Merwin Meadows which was busy with end of summer festivities. So we had him walking through the meadows, and the kids came up to see the dog. It was a way of us to say, ‘We’re here, we do have a canine, we’re walking around, we want to make sure everybody is safe.’
Meanwhile, while that officer is out of his car, we did have other officers in a car nearby, to be available to be closer to make sure they could respond either way.
But I want to make sure the officers can get out of their vehicles and be able to interact, especially in Wilton Center. We started a program where our recruits get out of the car with their training officer and go into each business and introduce themselves, and chalk up conversation. Then I reach out and we hear great reviews, the business owners love that. We do that so that the recruits learn the business, what it looks like inside, and also lets us know who’s working in town. That’s a brand new officer and a seasoned officer meeting everyone in town.
We’re still two officers short. We’re still in this transition period. I’ve never seen this, I’ve been here 32 years, and I’ve never seen the turnover we’ve had. When I got on the job, the town allowed the department to increase and we hired a bunch of people at the same time. Well, that time has come when a lot of those officers are leaving. It was trying and I give my administrative staff a lot of credit–they took on a lot of responsibilities. We’ve been without one captain for almost eight months now. That was my job, and it was a full time job, and we all took on part of that full time job.
But now we’re probably going to be doing promotions in October for a captain and a lieutenant. As that lieutenant moves up to captain then we can move up some more. It’s great because that means there are new people doing new jobs.
GMW: So, 32 years with the Wilton Police?
RC: Yeah, seems a long time ago! [Laughs] I’m actually hiring officers that I’ve been a police officer longer than they’ve been alive. [laughs] When were you born? Things have changed! But with younger officers in the department, it gives us a great chance to mold them into officers that are perfect for Wilton. We’re very community oriented, and we do a lot of services in the town.
We do investigate crimes, but not like a city would. So we’re service-oriented more so. We always say, ‘You call a police officer in this town, you get a police officer. This past winter, we had a senior citizen call an officer to her home, water was pouring into her house. He climbed up on the roof, cleared out all the snow and everything, all the water drains properly and it stopped leaking. The woman was ecstatic. We’re a small community and we do whatever we can to help. Whatever it takes. We don’t mind it.
One time, when I was a patrolman, I was speaking to a New York City officer and I said, ‘You guys have it bad in New York City, you have to deal with so much.’ And he goes, ‘No, if I call for help, not even a minute down the road I have an army of officers ready to help me. You have to deal with your situation for 5-10 minutes before the next officer can help you just because of the distance you have. You guys have it tough! We may deal with it more, but there are 30,000 of us where there are 45 of you guys.’ It was eye-opening.
GMW: Grass is always greener…
GMW: You have a deeper history with Wilton than those 32 years, too.
RC: I moved to Wilton the summer before my junior year of high school. Wilton has been my home. I lived here until I got married, probably 10-plus years. I’ve seen it change from when I went to school here, to now, it’s been a big community change.
It’s a great place to live–it’s got a great school system, a government that wants to take care of its residents. I like to say the Police Department is the best in the state.
These guys are out there every day, bad weather or good, they do more–putting in time on patrol and then they help the contractors and make sure the construction areas are safe. Sometimes we have to ask the public for a little patience, the roads are sometimes so messed up with all the projects going through the center with the gas line. But we have to keep the road open, and that’s over and above what they’re doing here at work every day.
GMW: So as times change, how are things here changing. I see other towns have Police Departments with a Facebook page. Is there any thought to having that kind of presence?
RC: We have Det. Sear, he’s our computer guy, and he’s creating a Facebook page for us. It’s not yet a public page yet, but it looks great, it’s current news, it gives us a chance to put things out as well. It just has to go to the Police Commission.
I know the town also has an emergency twitter account, and the website. I’d like to figure out a way to make our department webpage a little more interactive. Right now it’s just information. There is a page if you want to make an anonymous tip, we have an email or a phone number to call. You don’t always have to give your name.
There are 45 of us, each with a pair of eyes; there are 18,000 of you out there, who can really help. You see something, say something. I know that’s the media push, but we really depend on the residents. You’re out there seeing everything. If you don’t want to leave your name, let us know what you’re seeing. We get tips, sometimes it pans out, sometimes it’s nothing. But that’s okay–I’d rather it be nothing than let it go and we’re investigating something worse after, where we might have been able to catch the people. We don’t mind the phone call. Please do, tell us. We’re here for the public.