Editor’s Note: Tensions around the country remain high following even more ambush-style attacks on police officers yesterday, along with #BlackLivesMatter protests (most peaceful, some ending in arrests and injuries) and continued political debate. Sunday’s news of three more officers slain and three others injured in Baton Rouge is a devastating continuation of violence against law enforcement. It happened far from Wilton, but we all feel the violence, the senselessness, racism and the ugly underside of humanity.
Our GOOD Morning Wilton mission means focusing the lens of coverage through a Wilton eye. As we did last week in a candid conversation with Wilton resident Adrienne Reedy about race, we asked Wilton Police Chief Robert Crosby to share with Wilton his thoughts about several things: how his department incorporates training and the discussion of race in order to best prevent against incidents like what happened in Baton Rouge and elsewhere; how his officers are coping emotionally after the tragic killings of their brothers in blue; and how his department stays connected to all the people it serves. (Note: this interview was done last week before the Baton Rouge shootings yesterday.)
We are looking to further the discussion even more, and will continue to find ways to do so. But it’s our hope that by having a frank and open look at race and racism, we strengthen the community and inspire respect, compassion and understanding.
Heather Borden Herve: I knew you would be open to talking because I’ve heard you say before how, especially with what’s happening around the country and over the last year, how important it is to you for this department to be connected to the community.
Chief Robert Crosby: It is. With Coffee with a Cop, and all the things we try to do with the community, I certainly want to stay connected. The Wilton Police Department is very lucky that we are policing in a community like Wilton. It was amazing the calls, the emails, people sent food to us, just showing how sad they are about Dallas.
HBH: How are your officers doing? Bottom line, whether it’s a town like Wilton or New York City, every time you get out of the car to go up to a car, whatever it is you go toward potential danger. This is a hard job, and let’s acknowledge that right from the start. Then when you have a situation where you watch what happened in Dallas on TV just like the rest of us, to your ‘Brothers in Blue,’ emotionally what is that like for you?
Crosby: It was a sad day for law enforcement. But it was also a sad day for this country, that we’ve gotten to a point like this where that sniper was willing to do what he did. Police departments and police officers get painted with this broad brush that says, ‘Just because someone down there did something wrong, you’re a police officer so you are the same thing.’
All these things that are happening, there’s Baton Rouge and all the other things that are happening, I don’t know what kind of training they have. But I can speak for Wilton and pretty much Connecticut and the Northeast—we have all these different standards and trainings that we go to. We hold ourselves at a high standard. We want to make sure that stuff like that doesn’t happen.
Because of that, I want to be judged by, and the police department to be judged by what we do here in this community and not what other officers are doing elsewhere. I think we do a pretty good job keeping this community safe. Again, we’re lucky. We have law abiding citizens who live here, work here, and we don’t have issues. But we do have a lot of bad guys that do drive through Rte. 7 and are coming here to victimize people from Wilton. So, again, I want us to be judged by what we do and not by what is happening in the rest of this country.
Wilton is certainly not a crime capital of the world. We don’t deal with that. We’re more community policing. This past winter, a senior citizen called and said there was water coming in from the roof. One of our guys climbed up on the roof, shoveled out all the snow and slush that was up there, got the drain to drain, and it stopped the leaking. Now, maybe in a city they wouldn’t do that, but in Wilton that’s what we do. I mean we can get a call that there is a bat in your house, so we go there and try to get the bat out of the house. That’s what we do. That’s important to us, and we understand that being a Wilton Police Officer, that is our job. We’re not always looking for bad guys, or capturing bad guys, although that is the more difficult part of our job. When a crime happens, we have to deal with it.
A lot of people, my friends, say that all we do is give tickets. Do you know what it would be like if we’re not out there giving tickets? Look how bad it is out there, the driving and we are giving out tickets, can you imagine what it would be like if we weren’t out there? It would be anarchy. So sometimes we are that unnecessary evil.
HBH: So, tell me about those standards you incorporate into your training. What kinds of things does this department integrate in its training about race, and differences and interacting safely with people that your officers might encounter.
Crosby: There are all kinds of diversity training that we have. In your career, you’re not going to one diversity training class. You go to multiple diversity training classes. From dealing with African Americans to Middle Eastern people to anybody. We send our officers to mental health classes, because that’s another issue—and we deal more with that than other issues. We deal a lot with mental health.
We have our use of force training, on what we should do. The fact that we now carry Tasers helps keep us away from a deadly force situation and move to a non lethal force.
You’re going to see our officers out there wearing body cameras now. There are a lot of things we are doing to try and be transparent. That’s a buzzword now, ‘transparent,‘ but this is what we’re doing to show what we do.
But we teach officers to use what we call ‘verbal judo.‘ Instead of having to forcibly do something, you’re taught how to de-escalate someone who is already escalated. We teach how to diffuse that, but also, when it does comes time to raise your voice, to raise your voice to get someone to understand that this is becoming a forceful situation, to please stop doing what you’re doing and comply. If you comply, a lot less happens. If an officer tells you to put up your hands, put up your hands. Do whatever he is asking you to do. If the officer is wrong, we’ll deal with that later. Whether it’s administratively, the officer gets arrested, we’ll deal with that later.
There are our Standard Operating Procedures for how to handle a lot of these things. And we go to training for crisis intervention. There’s just a lot of training we go to.
We here at the Wilton Police Department, from the top down, want to go to all of these trainings. They want to learn. And that’s helpful for me as the chief of police, my officers want to continue to be trained. From the officer who has 30 years on the job and still wants to go to training and learn how to do his job better, and I think that helps.
Also, our candidate selection. We’ll have an opening and we’ll have hundreds of people apply for the job, which is nice and then we get to choose from those who we feel are the best. We do an exhaustive interview process and backgrounds, and that really helps. If you pick the right candidate who fits Wilton, then you know that they’ll do a great job. I think the past group of officers that we have chosen, they’re doing a great job.
Wilton officers are sent to training outside the department and in-house by highly trained Wilton police instructors. We have one officer out there who’s still in the FTO program and I think he’ll be awesome here.
HBH: FTO, what is FTO?
Crosby: Field training officers. After you go to a 26 week training academy, you have 12 weeks of actually driving with a seasoned Wilton field training officer, who is trained to do that. They’ll go out with them for 12 weeks and they’ll learn how we do it in Wilton. The academy teaches you broadly, and then we make it fit Wilton. So in 26 weeks at the academy and 12 weeks with a field training officer, we really get to see how this person is going to do. If the person is not going to do well, we say, ‘Thank you, but no thank you. It isn’t going to work in our community. We’re not saying you’re going to be a bad officer, you’re just not going to work for Wilton.’
HBH: You talk about Wilton being a low crime town. One primary focus is going to be Route 7 and a lot of the traffic stops seem to tend to be people who are minority, who are not Wilton residents, or the typical residents.
Crosby: Anytime we pull over somebody there are forms we have to fill out. Those forms are then sent off to the State of CT that does a tabulation. You’re probably aware of the, let me see if I have it here… [begins looking through reports]
HBH: You get held accountable? There are body cameras, but also reports that the state checks on you for?
Crosby: Every time someone gets pulled over we fill out this form and it is tabulated. And in Wilton we are very low on pulling over minorities, mainly because our community is mostly Caucasian. Wilton doesn’t have to ever worry about that, you don’t have to think that we’re only pulling over minorities. I think that’s good for Wilton.
There’s also a report on our use of force with a Taser. We have to fill out a form, every time you take out a Taser and point it at somebody, that is called ‘deploying a Taser.’ You don’t have to fire it. Just deploying it is this… [mimes pointing a Taser] Sometimes there is a misunderstanding that if you’re deploying it then you shot somebody. Once you deploy it you are asking for compliance now. Verbally you did not comply when I requested you to, so now I’m stepping it up and saying please comply now. We’ve had five Taser deployments in the past year, and five compliances [without shooting it]. There’s no overstepping. Our [Taser incidents] were all Caucasian people.
HBH: We’ve had this conversation before when we’ve talked about firearms—that you don’t ever want something to get to a stage where a firearm is fired, or a Taser is deployed and shot. You’ve said before, that’s the last thing you want, to get into that situation.
Crosby: It is. It’s very stressful. Once the officer has done something like that, and let’s say literally deployed the Taser, it’s stressful for him. There is so much he has to do to deal with. Now you worry about the health of the person. It would be better if we said, ‘Put your hands up,’ and people actually put their hands up.
Every officer wants to go home every night. And we’re lucky here we don’t have to deal with a lot of that, but we have Norwalk next door and Danbury where they’re all using Rte. 7 so we have to be prepared. And I think training for us is the way to go.
HBH: In last week’s article Adrienne Reedy told us that some of her friends who live in other communities, that they are afraid to come to Wilton, because of the stereotype that Wilton is not a place that is friendly to minorities. What’s your response, hearing something like that?
Crosby: I have heard that statement before and I think that, the racial profiling, driving, the forms we do prove that that is not true. That is not true. If you are violating the law, we are pulling you over. In our case, it happens to be a higher percentage of Caucasians than any other race. So, I don’t know where they got that fear from. But typically, if you sit on the side of the road, sometimes it is very difficult to see who is driving the car going by you, let alone at night or evening when you can’t see. So I don’t know that that is a concern for Wilton, we don’t look at that. And like I showed you, the state’s racial profiling, proves out that we are not that type of police department.
HBH: You held Coffee with a Cop. Are other programs that you’re thinking of implementing along those lines?
Crosby: Coffee with a Cop was such a great success. We want to do another. Not only was it a success with the residents because they got to meet us, but it was for us as well, to hear what our residents think about us. Sometimes we’re bombarded with the news and how people are saying what [negatives] they feel about police officers, but it’s nice to hear from our community and how they appreciate what we do for them.
We also have a really strong school resource officer program. We have two officers there that are doing that and I think that is helping as well. We have been doing that for years. There are other communities that haven’t had police officers in the school until recently, and their school resource officers are more for enforcement than they are for [educational] programs, which we do a lot of. Back many years ago I was the youth officer, (that’s what they called it back then). And we had it back then even further, Chief [Edward] Kulhawik, two chiefs ago was our youth officer as well. We have had such a great relationship with our school system, only because we are there to help them and they know that. We are there to help the students and it’s not only about an arrest, sometimes that doesn’t help.
HBH: What else do you want to people to know?
Crosby: Like I said at the beginning, I’m just grateful that we have the community that we have. I don’t want to be painted with that broad brush, and our officers don’t as well. We do a good job here. I think that’s important for us. It’s nice to be able to get out how we feel. We all love being police officers. What I am afraid of, if it gets too bad, is no one is going to want to be a police officer.
I’m not just this blue uniform. This is just a uniform that I wear. I am a parent, I have children at home, I was a coach, I was all of that stuff. There is more to me than just this uniform. It is the job I chose and I love the job, I have been doing it for 32 years and have enjoyed coming to work every day.
We have patrol officers who have worked here 32 years and are still as excited about it as they were the day they were hired. And you’d think that someone who has been doing the same thing for 32 years would say that they are going to just do what they have to do to get by or just leave, because there is no benefit of staying here for this long for our pensions. Our pensions are already maxed out. It’s just that we love the job, it’s a job that is exciting. You can go from zero to one hundred at a moment’s notice and you don’t know why. It’s a great job. I’m just afraid that if we keep on getting the bad rap that we are getting, no young person is going to want to be a police officer and that isn’t good.