Category Archives: Police

Sunset Drama On Sunrise

Sunrise Road was not made for 18-wheelers.

The driver of a truck filled with 43,000 pounds of refrigerated meat — bound from Minnesota to West Haven — learned that out the hard way last night at 7.

He tried to make a right turn onto Saugatuck Avenue — no easy feat even for Mini Coopers. Soon, he was hung up on a stone wall.

Alert “06880” reader Gerald F. Romano Jr. was on the scene. For the next 2 1/2 hours, he says, Westport police and firefighters did a great job. A crew from Quality Towing unloaded 10,000 pounds of meat off the truck.

That lightened the load, so the Quality guys could pull the rear wheels off the wall. No one one was injured. The driver — who said this was his first incident in 40 years — drove off.

(All photos Gerald F. Romano Jr.)

“It all ended well,” Romano says.

But just imagine if the driver had headed for the William F. Cribari Bridge.

Unsung Hero #55

Today is July 4.

Westport jumps the gun a bit on our fireworks celebration. We held ours Monday night. It’s the town’s biggest and best party of the year.

The cost is just $35 — and that’s only if you want to park at Compo. (Plus, you can pack as many people as you want into your vehicle.)

Otherwise you can park at Longshore, the office complex on Greens Farms Road or a friend’s house, and walk to the beach.

Still, people complain.

The $35 — a price that has remained the same for years — helps fund Westport PAL. They’ve sponsored the event for years. Recently, Melissa & Doug have helped out, ensuring that more of the money goes back to PAL programs.

Under the direction of Westport Police officer Ned Batlin — and a small group of volunteers — PAL does plenty. For example, they provide:

  • Youth sports teams and clinics. Each year, over 2,000 youngsters participate in 20 or so programs, including football, wrestling, cheerleading and much more.
  • The ice rink at Longshore (one of Westport’s favorite winter activities, for people of all ages and abilities).

The PAL Longshore Ice Rink.

  • Equipment and other needs for a variety of Staples High School teams.
  • College scholarships (more than 300 graduates so far, and counting).
  • Support for Toys for Tots, DARE and other programs.

That’s just the tangible stuff. By partnering with so many efforts, Westport PAL shows kids that the police really are their pals.

Westport PAL is our July 4th Unsung Heroes.

And every other day too.

Officer Ned Batlin, Police Chief Foti Koskinas and Deputy Chief Sam Arciola all help Westport PAL go.

Police Pension Draws National Attention

A pension dispute involving Westport’s Police Department has drawn national attention.

The Economic Policy Institute — a left-leaning think tank — is focusing on a dispute between the police union (AFSCME Local 2080) and the town.

Negotiations have gone to binding arbitration. A decision may come this fall.

“Why would Westport mess with a system that works?” asks economist Monique Morrissey on the EPI’s Working Economics Blog.

“The police department is tiny and the town can easily afford the benefits. In the 2015-2016 fiscal year, spending on police pensions amounted to just 1.2 percent of the town’s revenues, so even drastic benefit cuts wouldn’t noticeably affect anyone’s tax bill.

“Westport’s property tax rate is already among the lowest in the state, though taxes are high in dollar terms as would be expected for a wealthy town in a high cost of living area.”

Morrissey notes that Westport police officers do not receive Social Security, nor is overtime factored into their final pensions. She frames efforts to reduce Westport police pensions as part of “an ideological campaign” to get rid of pensions in favor of riskier 401(k)-style savings plans.

She says that kind of campaign could backfire as municipalities start to restore benefits in an effort to prevent losing experienced officers.

“The 64 members of the Westport police department, who signed on for what they thought was a career of public service that would be rewarded with a secure retirement, may still pay a price, unless the citizens of Westport realize that that the police force they have come to rely on may be torn apart by shortsighted pension ‘reforms,’” Morrissey writes.

Click here to read Morrissey’s full story.

Unsung Hero #50

Alert “06880” reader Cary Peterson writes:

It was late afternoon last Friday. As I do almost every day, I walked our little dog to Grace Salmon Park.

Chloe

The tide was as low as it can get. It looked like you could walk to Riverside Avenue. I let Chloe off her leash on the path around the river. She doesn’t like the water, and usually stays right with me.

She nosed around the center where it is fenced off, and flushed out a duck. It flew toward the river, with our dog right on her tail.

She plunged into the mud and followed the duck out to open water, a long way from shore. I screamed at her to come, but she seemed stuck.

At that moment a police car pulled in the park. I ran over. Officer John Lauria tried to calm me down, as he assessed the situation.

Neither of us could see any sign of Chloe. I was sure she was drowned in mud.

Officer Lauria called animal control. We walked around looking for any sign of her.

I was hysterical, as the officer explained he couldn’t walk out in the quicksand. I certainly didn’t want him risking his life either. He commiserated with me on how difficult it is to lose a dog.

Officer John Lauria, on land.

After 10 futile minutes he spotted Chloe, way at the edge of the muck. He jumped in and walked across the Saugatuck River to rescue her.

The relief I felt when he safely trudged ashore carrying her is indescribable.

By that time animal control officer Joseph Saponare had arrived. He was barefoot, and ready to help. He was also well supplied with towels, which made only a small dent in wiping off the black muck.

I am struck by how easy it is to misjudge even a very obedient dog. We have been taking her to this park without incident since she finished her obedience training 6 years ago. Dogs have very strong instincts. We have to keep Chloe always on a leash.

As for officer John Lauria: He took a big risk for a little dog. To me he will always walk on water!

Remembering Howard Burling

On the eve of Memorial Day comes news of the death of Howard Burling II. The former Westport police officer — who died last week in Trumbull, age 83 — was best known here for another holiday.

Every 4th of July he would parachute onto the Compo Beach parking lot. His landing marked the unofficial start of the fireworks.

Parachuting — one of Burling’s many passions — dated back to his Marine Corps service during the Korean War. He parachuted more than 2,000 times including onto the North Pole — at the age of 62.

After the Marines — which after his discharge he continued to serve as a reserve officer — Burling joined the Westport Police Department. He spent 20 years on the force, retiring as captain.

In 1968 he and his son Marc served as models for a U.S. postage stamp, celebrating the police officer’s duty to protect and serve.

His legacy lives on in 2 others ways.

An avid SCUBA diver, he started the department’s Underwater Rescue Team.

Howard Burling in the early years of the Westport Police Department water rescue team.

And Burling designed the Westport Police patch. It’s still worn today.

In 1962 Burling — along with Westport YMCA director Matt Johnson, and Staples High School assistant football coach Chuck Smith — began the summer Road Runner race series. More than 55 years later, it’s still going strong.

Burling is survived by his son Marc of Yorba Linda, California; grandchildren Charlie, Carina and J.D.; daughter-in-law Marlene Burling of Seymour, and sister Jane Fraytet of Charlotte, North Carolina. He was predeceased by his son Ward Burling, and his brothers Charles and Walter.

He is also survived by his ex-wife Emma Burling of Milford. They met in 1955, were married to each other twice, and remained best friends until the end.

He was also close with his ex-wife Beverly Previs of Stratford, with whom he resided for the last 10 years.

Burling will be remembered at a memorial service with military honors on Thursday, June 14 (Milford Christian Church, 989 New Haven Avenue, Milford, 6:30 p.m.).

New Class Graduates From Citizen Police Academy

Why do cops’ traffic stops tie up the busy Post Road?

What goes on in a domestic violence call?

And what’s it like to ride with a police officer on a shift?

Those questions — and many more they didn’t even know to ask — were answered clearly and honestly for 25 Westporters recently.

They were members of the Citizen Police Academy, an innovative program that brings community members and cops together for 9 weeks of intense, interactive sessions.

The goal is to bridge the gap between the Westport Police Department, and the citizens they protect and serve. With many officers not living in town — and many residents having little interaction with police — there are too many chances for misconceptions and myths.

The first Citizens Police Academy was held in 2009. The next one was 7 years later.

There was not enough interest last year. But this time — thanks to great publicity by the Sunrise Rotary Club, on Facebook and through work of mouth — organizers turned people away.

A similar youth academy — for high school students — ran concurrently.

Lieutenant Eric Woods — who runs the detective bureau — led this year’s sessions.

Lieutenant Eric Woods introduces the class to police techniques.

The adult course began with an overview of the organizational structure of the WPD, and a tour of facilities.

Quickly, the class jumped into meaty topics. They included domestic violence, the Youth Bureau, patrol techniques, criminal investigations, crime scene processing, DUI enforcement, dispatch, presentations by the state attorney and public defender offices, recruitment, training, interactions with other police departments and the Westport schools, K-9, SWAT, and the marine division and dive team.

Participants rode with patrol officers, got certified in CPR, and experienced the pistol range with a police-issued firearm.

David Kinyon prepares for his ride-along with Officer Shane Pucci.

Rick Jaffe was one of the citizen participants. He raved abut the course.

“The police department is one of the most important and sensitive components of life in Westport,” he says.

“To see how it operates, and how it integrates with our society, is so valuable it’s hard to measure. Every single member of the police force who took part could not have been nicer, could not have been more informative, and could not have been more willing.”

He calls the Citizen Police Academy “a hidden-in-plain-sight Westport gem.”

Woods echoes Jaffe’s praise. “There was a lot of dialogue, a lot of back-and-forth. It’s great for police to hear from the community side, and for Westport residents to feel comfortable with us. I think they learned that there’s a reason for everything we do.”

So about those traffic stops on the Post Road, during rush hour…

“When we pull someone over, we want them to go to a parking lot,” Woods explains.

“But if they stop on the side of the road, we work with them there. People are nervous. We get it. Everyone acts differently. We never know what to expect at a stop.”

Members of the Citizen Police Academy — some of whom are shown here at graduation, with Lieutenant Eric Woods (far left) — learned quite plenty about police procedures and techniiques.

Similarly, Woods says, “we talk about why we don’t always enforce low-level traffic offenses so vigorously. Usually it’s an issue of manpower or timing.”

Once Academy students hear those explanations — and others like it — they understand, Woods says.

Similarly, in the session on crime scene investigations, residents learned that police work is not at all like “CSI.”

“Our big thing now is biological evidence, like DNA,” Woods notes. “We don’t want to throw fingerprint dust all over the place. I think they were amazed to see the difference between DNA and fingerprint recovery.”

Woods cites the ride-alongs, firing range, K-9 unit, and dialogue with the state attorney and public defender as high on the list of topics the Westporters learned from and appreciated.

“This is a great, community-based program,” Woods says. “It’s a proactive way to show we’re here for you. We were gratified to get such a positive response.”

Course members ranged in age from 20s to 70s. They included attorneys, corporate executives, and a retired firefighter. The Westport Police Department covered all costs (primarily for instructors’ time).

They plan to run both the adult and youth courses next year. Once again, they’ll probably turn people away.

Whoever thought Westporters would clamor to get into the police station?

Body Found By Saugatuck Shores

Just past 8:30 this morning, Max Haslett was walking his dog on Harbor Road.

The Westport teenager goes to a private school in Fairfield. On Friday, he does not have classes.

As he tossed a ball, heading from Saugatuck Island toward Duck Pond, he saw an outline in the mud. As Max got closer, he realized it was the body of a man.

With gray hair, he appeared to be in his 60s or 70s. He wore a jacket and jeans, but no shoes.

Max called his father, then the Westport police.

Several officers arrived almost immediately. As they worked together — taking care of the deceased man, checking a boat anchored in the area — they also made sure Max was okay.

Max told “06880” that he was concerned for the man’s family, and impressed with the quick and thorough police response.

Foul play is not suspected, Westport Police Lieutenant Jillian Cabana says. Detectives and the Chief Medical Examiner continue to investigate.

The approximate spot on Harbor Road where a body was found earlier today.

Scammed!

A longtime Westporter — and avid “06880” reader — wants her story told.

“I’m not a stupid person,” she says. But when she got a phone call saying her grandson had been arrested for possession of drugs — and the caller used the teenager’s first name — she panicked.

“I knew the man on the phone was saying strange things,” she says. “He said my grandson had one phone call that would keep him from going to jail — well, why wouldn’t he call his mom or dad? I asked for a number to call back, but he wouldn’t tell me.

“I should have hung up. But I couldn’t stop myself from talking to him.”

The man gave her several tasks to do — one at a time.

The first was to get $12,500 in cash. If the bank asked why, she was told to say she was having construction work done; the contractor did not want a check.

The woman went to the bank she always uses. “I could tell the woman there was trying to help me,” she says. “But like a good girl, I recited the contractor story.”

On the next call, the man told her to put the bills inside a magazine. He gave her the nearest UPS store — the one opposite Fresh Market — and told her to mail it to an address in Miami. It must arrive before 10:30 the next morning, and be marked “Drop at door. No signature required.”

All along, the woman wanted to call her son. Finally, she did. She learned — as she’d always suspected — that her grandson was fine.

Her son found a fraud number for UPS. By this time it was night. The woman planned to call first thing in the morning.

Unable to sleep at 1 a.m., she realized it might be a 24-hour hotline. Soon, she was speaking with a helpful woman. The mail would be intercepted before delivery.

That morning, the scammer called again. He asked for the tracking number. The woman hung up.

UPS did stop delivery. The $12,500 was returned.

Despite her embarrassment, the woman called the Westport Police Department. “A very nice officer took copious notes,” she says.

She knows the man in Miami will not be found — this time. But the officer told her he often goes to the Senior Center, warning people of scams like this. “He praised my son and me for how we handled this,” she says.

This is not the first time a Westporter has almost fallen victim. An older woman I know well was told a similar story about her grandson’s arrest. Her instructions were money wire it via Western Union at Stop & Shop.

Fortunately, the clerk behind the counter was suspicious, and asked the woman to call her grandson. She was relieved to hear his voice. Sheepishly, she explained she had almost sent money to a scammer.

“I’m not a stupid person,” the woman with the UPS story says again. “But I did a stupid thing. I don’t want anyone else to do the same.”

Beware Of Bicyclists. And Bicyclists: Beware!

Our long winter of  nor’easters is over (we hope). Spring is here. Up pop daffodils. Dandelions. And bicyclists.

Westporters are not always great at sharing roadways. An alert — and upset — “06880” reader writes:

My pet peeve is bicyclists in town and their road manners.

Today a guy headed north on Hillspoint towards the old Positano’s and Elviras. As I approached at a distance I briefly tapped my horn. When I came around him I was completely in the other lane, making sure I was more than 3 feet away.

I made a full stop at the sign. The cyclist blasted by me on the right without any attempt at stopping.

I hit the horn to express my displeasure. He offered a 1-finger salute as he weaved around the pedestrians, and ignored the Cadillac trying to turn into Old Mill. Here’s the video:

 

Westport Police are aware of the issue. They say: “Westport is here for everyone to enjoy. Let’s share the road and be courteous so cyclists, pedestrians and motorists can make it safely to their destinations.”

They advise bicyclists:

  • Ride where you are expected to be seen. Travel in the same direction as traffic. Signal and look over your shoulder before changing lanes or turning.
  • Riding more than 2 abreast is against the law, except in designated bike lanes. Those riding 2 abreast cannot impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.
  • Wear equipment to make you more visible to others, like bright and reflective clothing. Outfit your bicycle with reflectors, a white front light and red rear light.
  • Always wear a helmet.
  • Tuck and tie your shoe laces and pant legs so they don’t get caught in your bike chain.
  • Obey all traffic rules and signs. Always give proper hand signals.
  • Always ride with the traffic — as close as possible to the right side of the road.
  • Ride in designated bike lanes when present.
  • Be sure the roadway is clear before entering.
  • Yield right of way to pedestrians.
  • Pass pedestrians and other bicyclists with care by first announcing “on your left” or “passing on your left,” or use a bell.
  • Slow down and look for cars backing out of driveways or turning.

Westport roads sometimes seem like this.

[OPINION] Don Bergmann: “Police In Schools Is A Mistake”

Alert “06880” reader Don Bergmann writes:

Following the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook School Elementary School, Westport undertook and paid for many school security actions.

One first step was to hire the Kroll security firm to generate a school security report. No member of the public, no members of the RTM and, I believe, no member of the Board of Finance was permitted to read the Kroll report.

Well in advance of the report, the issue of police in our schools was raised and discussed.  Then-superintendent of schools Elliott Landon made it clear that he did not support police in our schools.

I believe that judgment was supported by the then-Board of Education, and most in Westport. I believe that judgment evidenced a conclusion that the presence of police in our schools sent the wrong message, and was inconsistent with the function and spirit of education. My recollection is that the idea of police in our schools was viewed as something that had no home in places of learning, youthful interaction and openness.

Our present superintendent of schools, Dr. Colleen Palmer, may be proposing to assign, possibly even hire, 5 police to protect, may I say “guard,” our students while in school. I believe the Board of Education may support Dr. Palmer.

I believe this proposal is an unfortunate reaction to contemporary events. It comes about in part, if not primarily, because of the assertions of parents of students that “we must do something,” and the willingness of the school administration to respond to such cries for action by introducing a police presence into our schools.

I believe an ongoing police presence in our schools is a mistake. I believe it conveys a new and troubling feel to our schools, to education and to the interactions of all who are present in our schools: students, teachers, administrators, nurses,  cafeteria workers, and all others who contribute to the effective and joyous functioning of our schools.

Dr. Landon concluded that there should be no police patrolling our schools. Dr. Palmer appears to have concluded otherwise. The Board of Ed will have to make the initial decision, though roles for the Board of Finance, the RTM and maybe the Board of Selectmen are almost certain.

It is also important that the Kroll report be re-read. It would also seem sensible for the RTM and other elected officials to have access to the report, at least as to the issue of police in our schools. That particular aspect of the Kroll Report should probably also be available to the public.

In making a decision, I believe the input of our nearly 1,000 school employees is relevant. I also believe the voices of our students should be heard. In all cases, those voices must not be allowed to be pressured into silence by the actions and words of those who are so fearful for their children they do not welcome dialogue.

My concern is not cost, even though the cost for 5 police in our schools is significant. Even without new hires, but rather redeployments, the cost is significant since officers will be taken from present areas of responsibility.

The present thinking  appears not to include the cost of 5 police in the proposed school budget for 2018-19. I believe that approach would be wrong.

This letter (somewhat longer) was addressed to the school administration and the Board of Education. However, I ask others to weigh in. The views of the RTM, Board of Finance — indeed, of all elected officials and citizens — are important.