Category Archives: Police

A Neo-Nazi Story, In Westport

A police car sat outside The Conservative Synagogue of Westport. A police officer stood inside the front door.

Those are signs of the times. Near-daily bomb threats have rattled Jewish Community Centers and Anti-Defamation League offices around the country.

But the only threat last night was to disrupt stereotypes and assumptions.

A full house heard Frank Meeink talk about his life.

Frank Meeink’s book cover shows a swastika tattooed on his neck.

At 13 years old, the Philadelphia native was a skinhead. By 18 he was roaming the country as a neo-Nazi recruiter. He hosted a TV show called “The Reich.”

In prison — convicted of kidnapping and beating a member of a rival skinhead gang — he befriended men he once hated. Slowly, his world view — and life — changed.

Today the 41-year-old is a noted speaker, author and founder of Harmony Through Hockey (he’s also a youth coach). He travels the country talking about tolerance, diversity and mutual understanding, in race, politics and throughout society.

Meeink — who has been featured in a film with Desmond Tutu, appeared in a music video with country singer Jamey Johnson and been interviewed by Katie Couric — was part of the inspiration for the movie “American History X.”

His talk last night was riveting. It was also preaching to the choir. I doubt anyone came to the synagogue hoping to have his or her neo-Nazi views reinforced.

But Meeink’s message of openness, and his story of how hatred can be turned to love, was powerful and inspiring. It was also eye-opening to hear his raw words spoken inside a temple, before an audience that included men in yarmulkes.

Frank Meeink speaking last night at The Conservative Synagogue.

Last night’s event was the culmination in a long day. Earlier, Meeink spent 2 hours with the sophomore and junior classes at Staples High School. They listened raptly as he discussed “The Truth About Hate.” After Meeink spoke, a number of students talked in an open mic session about their experiences with bullying — as bullies, victims and bystanders — and pledged to work toward greater acceptance for all.

Meeink later met with members of the Westport Police Department.

When he was 15 years old, Meeink tattooed a swastika on his neck. Two decades later, a resurgence of hatred sweeps our nation.

The police presence at The Conservative Synagogue last night served as a grim reminder of that. But Frank Meeink’s strong words — delivered to various Westport audiences all day long — overpowered every image of fear.

(Frank Meeink’s appearance last night was sponsored by The Conservative Synagogue, the Anti-Defamation League of Connecticut, TEAM Westport, Hadassah, the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy and the Westport Inn.)

 

Smile! You’re NOT On Candid Camera!

The new Main Street traffic lights — at the Avery Place/Parker Harding and Myrtle Avenue/North Kings Highway intersections — have some Westporters spooked.

An alert “06880” reader sent photos of what he thought were surveillance cameras:

traffic-light-not-camera-2

Were they installed to catch drivers zooming through the light?

Or — worse — some kind of nefarious, Big Brother spy cams?

traffic-light-not-camera-1

This called for a call to Westport’s top cop.

Have no fear, Police Chief Foti Koskinas responded quickly. There are no cameras on any traffic lights in Westport.

These are traffic control devices. They replace the strips that previously lay under the pavement, sending signals to the lights to determine if cars were waiting in line. That’s why sometimes a light allows a left turn on red, while other times it turns green for everyone.

In the past, Foti said, every time a road was repaired or repaved, the strips were torn out and replaced.

Now — sitting high above ground — they’re much safer.

Until the next wind storm.

CERTainly You Can Help

In times of crisis — a hurricane, blizzard, prolonged power outage — most of us want to be safe and secure. If not, we want to be helped.

A few of us want to be the ones helping.

If you’ve ever wanted to be trained — for free! — in first aid, CPR, disaster psychology, search and rescue and other emergency skills, help is at hand.

CERT — Westport’s Community Emergency Response Team — is offering 20 hours of instruction. And you do not have to be a Westport resident to join.

Part of the CERT crew that keeps Westport safe.

Part of the CERT crew that keeps Westport safe.

Training takes place on Friday, February 24 (6:30 to 10:30 p.m.), Saturday, February 25 (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and Sunday, February 26 (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). The site is Westport Police headquarters.

CERT is a little known but hugely important volunteer agency that supports our uniformed services like police, fire and EMS. It’s run in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security and Westport’s emergency management personnel.

For more information click here, email info@westportcert.org, or call Ernest Heidelberg at 203-226-0780.

Coyotes!

Alert, angry and saddened “06880” reader Peter Mackey writes:

The other day we said goodbye to our dear friend Murphy. We rescued our snaggle-toothed mixed breed dog a dozen years ago. He was a childhood companion to our kids, and the inseparable buddy of our other dog, Leilah.

Murphy did not die of old age. He died from a vicious, brutal attack by coyotes in our front yard, on Charcoal Hill Road.

It was a quiet Saturday evening. As usual, I let our dogs out at dusk, to do their final duties. But I’ll never forget that night.

Murphy

Murphy

Murphy had 27 puncture wounds, his muscles ripped from his spinal cord, and internal damage he would never recover from. I apologize for the graphic description, but it’s important we all are aware of how deadly these animals are.

As harrowing as that evening and the next day were, it’s the experience we had afterward that prompts this note. In the process of dealing with this, I’ve discovered that Westport is the only town in Connecticut that has an ordinance against trapping or killing wild animals on private property. Even predators as cruel and ferocious as coyotes.

Officer Gina Gambino of Westport Animal Control told us that Westport Code of Ordinance 10-1 and 10-2 forbid trapping or hunting  coyotes in this town. She said there is nothing that she or her department can do to protect our neighborhood from predators.

“I don’t make the laws. I just enforce them,” was the general response.

Coyotes are now at the top of the Westport food chain. Because surrounding towns allow trapping, they’re proliferating here.

All pets, and even small children are at risk. Murphy was a medium-sized dog weighing 40 pounds. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection warns owners of pets under 25 pounds to be aware of coyotes. That’s an outdated standard.

As our climate warms, coyotes who would normally be in their dens are roaming our yards, looking for food wherever they can find it. With their proliferation comes increased adaptation to human environments. The longer they’re here, the more comfortable they become.

The Mackey family (minus Peter) and their dogs.

The Mackey family (minus Peter) and their dogs.

I hope this letter increases awareness of this clear and present danger; opens dialogue between residents and the RTM about this ordinance, and encourages Westport Animal Control to take some responsibility for helping citizens deal with this issue, ordinance or no ordinance.

If you recently sighted a coyote on your property, report it to the police. Get your RTM members involved.

I can’t imagine I live in the only Connecticut town that places the safety of its predator population above its citizens and their pets.

Last night the coyotes were back in our yard, howling 10 feet outside our bedroom window. Fortunately, Leilah was inside.

Rash Of Stolen Vehicles Follows Rash Of People Leaving Keys In Vehicles

  • 12/02/16: “He also stated his daughter left the vehicle unlocked with the key in the console.”
  • 12/14/16: “The vehicle had been parked on the left side of the driveway with no other vehicles in front of it or behind it. The vehicle was unlocked and the keys were left either on the driver-side floor or the middle console.”
  • 12/25/16: “At approximately 0730 hours, the victim reported someone just attempted to steal his vehicle after he left it running in driveway.”
  • 12/30/16: “Victim stated he always leaves his keys in the vehicle and always leaves the vehicle unlocked.”
  • 12/30/16: “The key fob for the vehicle was also in the center console and the vehicle was unlocked.”
  • 01/06/17: “Responded on a report of a stolen car.  Upon arrival I spoke with the owner who stated that he parked the car around 1845 hours on 1/5/17.  The vehicle was unlocked and the keys were inside.”
  • 01/09/17: “Victim said he went to sleep around 2300 hours and did not hear anything suspicious during the night. Victim said his key was left in his center console and his vehicle must have been unlocked.”
  • 01/09/17: “Doors were unlocked and the key was left in the vehicle.”

stolen-carYou get the point?

If not, read on:

Over the past 2 months, 9 vehicles have been stolen in Westport.

Each time, the doors were unlocked, and the keys were left inside.

Westport Police have also responded recently to a number of vehicle break-ins, with thefts of items inside. In all those cases too, the doors were unlocked overnight.

The Police Department reminds Westporters: Lock your car, and bring your keys inside. Take valuables — cash, purses, wallets, electronics, etc. — out each night.

Westport PoliceThe cops add: “It is also good practice to keep outside lights on and motion lights activated. Please notify the Police Department if it appears your vehicle was entered or you observe anything suspicious in your neighborhood.”

The good news: In all recent cases, the stolen vehicles were recovered.

The bad news:  The time the police spend tracking down the car thieves could be spent in much better ways.

Like catching all those entitled drivers whose photos appear on “06880.”

Westport Bids Tina Goodbye

Some wore suits or dresses. Others wore jeans and wool caps.

Some were politicians, social service workers, police officers and Westporters who live in very comfortable homes. Others live at the Gillespie Center.

Ushers from Homes With Hope showed down-on-their-luck folks to their seats. Clergy from 3 different congregations conducted the service. The 1st selectman gave a reading. So did a Westport police officer, who spent much of his own youth in shelters.

Over 150 people — some from as far away as Baltimore and Brattleboro — filled Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church this afternoon, for a funeral service honoring a woman some never met.

tina-wessel-funeral-program

Tina Wessel died last month. A homeless woman with a pronounced limp, she was a longtime fixture in downtown Westport.

In her life on the streets — and in the shed near the Senior Center where her body was found — she touched many hearts.

“She gave a lot of people the finger. She dropped a lot of f-bombs,” one woman said. “But look at all these people. They saw beyond that.”

They did indeed. As one woman related in remarks after the service, Tina had another remarkable side. An hour after receiving a donation of food, Tina knocked on the agency’s door.

“Here’s what I don’t need,” she said, returning some of her goods. “Can you give it to somebody else?”

Photos of Tina Wessel, from the program today.

Photos of Tina Wessel, from the program today.

Rev. Peter Powell — who founded and served as the first CEO of Homes With Hope — delivered a powerful, challenging sermon.

“Tina touched many of us in ways that would probably surprise her,” he said.

He noted that many of the readings at the service mentioned bringing bread to the hungry, and giving homes to the homeless.

“She was a challenge to work with,” Rev. Powell acknowledged. “But Tina had a role in Westport — one that we all need to think about.”

Rev. Peter Powell before the funeral, flanked by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Rev. Jeffrey Ryder of Green's Farms Congregational Church.

Rev. Peter Powell (center) before the funeral, flanked by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Rev. Jeffrey Ryder of Green’s Farms Congregational Church.

He recalled similar Westporters whose funerals he officiated at  — though one had only 3 mourners. He told their stories, and mentioned them all by name. They may have been homeless, but they were not faceless or nameless.

“Tina died cold, sick, alone and homeless,” Rev. Powell said. She — and others like her — should be remembered not because they needed us, but because “we need them.”

The town of Westport, police and Homes With Hope tried to help, Rev. Powell continued. Westport — “an amazingly generous town” — does far more for its homeless citizens than virtually any other affluent suburb in the country.

Tina did not accept some of that help. “Her reasons make no sense to you. But they did to her,” Rev. Powell explained.

“It’s not enough to love prodigiously, if people are cold or alone. We admired her pluck, her nature, her independence. But we could not find a way to house her as she wished.”

Calling Tina “an apostle,” Rev. Powell said that she has enabled us to “discover ourselves.”

When the service ended, Tina’s ashes were honored outside, in the church courtyard. It’s in the midst of downtown, where she spent so much of the last years of her life.

Mourners stood outside, as Tina's ashes were honored in the heart of downtown.

Mourners stood outside, as Tina’s ashes were honored in the heart of downtown.

Then everyone — social service workers, police officers, Westporters in very comfortable homes, residents of the Gillespie Center, and anyone else who knew Tina (or wished they had) — gathered downstairs. They shared food and coffee together.

And they remembered Tina.

(Donations in Tina’s name may be made to Westport Animal Shelter Advocates or Homes With Hope.)

Photos of Tina and her brother Ludy -- when both were young -- were displayed on a board in the church's Branson Hall.

Photos of Tina and her brother Ludy — when both were young — were displayed on a board in the church’s Branson Hall.

Cops Collect Toys For Tots

As the holiday season roars into overdrive, we’re (happily) overwhelmed with ways to help the less fortunate. All across town, organizations do their part to bring a little joy to those who truly need it.

“06880” can’t mention all of them. But if you’re looking for one particularly worthy cause, here it is.

The Westport Police local union and Police Benevolent Association are holding their annual toy drive. Each year, they distribute thousands of gifts to children who otherwise would have none, in Fairfield County and beyond. It runs through December 16.

Collection boxes for new, unwrapped toys are set up at several locations:

  • Police headquarters, 50 Jesup Road, 24 hours a day.
  • Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • ASF Sports & Outdoors, 1560 Post Road East, store hours.
  • Whole Foods, 399 Post Road West, store hours.
  • Renato’s Jewelers, 1765 Post Road East, store hours.

In addition, police officers will be in the ASF parking lot the next 2 weekends (December 10, 11, 17, 18, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) to accept toys and cash donations.

And to personally thank you for your generosity.

Westport Police

 

Tina Wessel Service: Time Change

The time for the funeral service for Tina Wessen — the well-known local homeless woman who died recently — has been changed, to accommodate arrivals from out of town.

The new time is 2 p.m., on Friday, December 9. The site is Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, in downtown Westport.

Meanwhile, the Westport Police — who helped secure medical services for Tina’s cat — have released this photo of her beloved pet:

tina-wessen-catThe cat is now safe and sound.

Tina’s Cat

Following the sad death of Tina Wessel — the homeless woman well known by nearly every Westporter — many “06880” commenters expressed concern for her beloved cat.

Third selectman Helen Garten reports that — thanks to great work by the Westport Police Department and Animal Control — the cat was found, and is safe.

Schulhof Animal Hospital is temporarily boarding Tina’s pet.

Westport Animal Shelter Advocates is soliciting donations for the cat’s medical examination and care. President Julie Loparo writes:

WASA thanks the Westport Police Department, particularly Chief Foti Koskinas; Animal Control officer Gina Gambino; Dorrie Harris, co-founder of TAILS; the staff of the Senior Center, particularly Tom Saviano, and the staff of Schulhof Animal Hospital for working together to humanely “trap” and provide care for Tina Wessel’s cat.

Westport Animal Shelter Advocates

The cat is calmly waiting in his/her crate for an exam. It is wonderful to live in a town with the compassion to want to do right by one of its long-term residents. This joint effort ensures that Ms. Wessel’s cat won’t be left to fend for itself.

WASA, with the kind assistance of the Schulhof staff, will oversee the cat’s care. When the time comes, it will secure a home for Ms. Wessel’s friend and furry family member.

If you would like to assist WASA with this effort, please visit www.westportwasa.org and click “Donate.” Please note on the form that you are donating in memory of “Tina’s cat.”  WASA is a 501c3 organization.

Many Westporters want to do something to honor Tina’s memory. This is one way to help.

tina-wessen-cat

Tina’s cat. (Photo courtesy of Westport Police Department)

Kids Dodge Cops At Staples

Across America, tensions are high between police and the communities they serve.

In Westport, cops and teenagers squared off tonight.

It was all in good fun — and for a good cause.

Westport Youth Commission member Colin Corneck sports a "Collaborative" t-shirt.

Westport Youth Commission member Colin Corneck sports a “Police and Youth Collaborative” t-shirt.

Staples’ Teen Awareness Group, Youth Commission, PAL and Westport Police Department sponsored the 5th annual Dodge-a-Cop tournament, in the high school fieldhouse.

A few hundred kids and a few dozen cops played dodgeball against — and with — each other. There had to be at least 1 officer on each team.

Cops and kids listen to instructions, before the massive tournament began.

Cops and kids listen to instructions, before the massive tournament began.

It was a great, bonding event. The money raised — from entry fees and food sales — went to the Chris Lemone Fund, in honor of the Staples outreach counselor who died last year.

It was a night to show off Westport’s finest.

And by that I mean: everyone who was there.

Police chief Foti Koskinas is flanked by dodgeball players Det. Sgt. Sereneti Dobson and Lt. Jillian Cabara. The referee (front) is Det. Sharon Russo.

Police chief Foti Koskinas is flanked by dodgeball players Det. Sgt. Sereneti Dobson and Lt. Jillian Cabara. The referee (front) is Det. Sharon Russo.

Stephen Rowland, Reid Rizack, Spencer Daniels and Max Zimmerman get ready to rumble.

Stephen Rowland, Reid Rizack, Spencer Daniels and Max Zimmerman get ready to rumble.

Dodgeball is not just for guys and cops!

Dodgeball is not just for guys and cops!

Police officers and everyone else: Watch out for Kenny Brill!

Police officers and everyone else: Watch out for Kenny Brill!

Everyone wants to know who's in the lead.

Youth Commission and TAG members keep score.

Ready! Aim! Fire!

Ready! Aim! Fire!