Tag Archives: Dale Call

Foti Koskinas: Hail To The Chief

When Foti Koskinas was sworn in as Westport’s police chief a few weeks ago, one of the speakers was Marty Bell.

Seven years earlier, the 2 men had a contentious relationship. Bell had beefs with the Police Department, where Koskinas was deputy chief. They battled hard. Now they’re buds.

That tells you nearly all you need to know about our new top cop.

But you should also know this. Among the folks Koskinas wanted to invite to the swearing-in were 2 from his Long Lots Middle School days: principal Dan Sullivan and teacher Sandy Ikard.

Both eased Koskinas’ transition, from a 6th grader new to the US unable to speak a word of English, to a 7th grader with friends, an active social life, and a love for school.

Neither could make the ceremony. But the fact that the police chief wanted them there speaks volumes.

In fact, Koskinas’ journey — physical and metaphorical — deserves its own book.

Westport Police Chief Fotios Koskinas.

Westport Police Chief Fotios Koskinas.

His route to Westport began in 1981 when his father Evangelos — a Greek sea captain and part owner of a shipping company — decided his children should be educated in the States. He chose Westport because a friend of his brother lived on Tomahawk Lane.

“Looking back, it was a huge adjustment,” the police chief says. “But I was welcomed with open arms.” Sullivan, Ikard and many other staff members helped. Within a year, Koskinas felt comfortable.

Some of those Long Lots friends came to the swearing-in ceremony too.

At Staples High School, Koskinas played football, wrestled, and joined Bruce Betts’ volleyball club.

He entered the University of New Haven, planning to study engineering. But many of his friends were in the school’s vaunted criminal justice program. At the time, Dr. Henry Lee was there too, working on the Richard Crafts “wood chipper” murder case. Koskinas changed majors.

He applied to the FBI, and took the US Marshals Service test. He also took the Westport Police exam, and was offered a part-time position. He headed to the state Police Academy.

Westport PoliceKoskinas has been here ever since. As a sergeant, with a newborn daughter, he had a chance with the FBI. He turned it down, to stay in Westport.

The position he’s moved into — and the department he now heads — is in good shape, Koskinas says. He praises his predecessor Dale Call for handing over a force that needs “no immediate fixes.”

Both Koskinas and Call are Staples grads. Thirty or 40 years ago, that was true of nearly every officer. Most lived in town.

That’s one of the biggest differences today, Koskinas says. Though Sam Arciola and Vincent Penna of the command staff are residents and natives, few other cops are true Westporters.

Many live in Monroe, Shelton, Trumbull and Stratford. Others commute from as far as Oxford and Southbury.

“People come in for their 8-hour or overtime shift,” Koskinas says. “They do a great job. But when it’s over, they immediately head home. They don’t shop here, go to restaurants here, get their entertainment here. They don’t get to know the local residents in their off hours.”

Call, Koskinas and others — including Staples grad Ned Batlin — have tried to create stronger ties, particularly at the youth level. They’ve helped organize “Dodge a Cop” dodgeball tournaments with Staples and middle school students, among other initiatives.

As deputy chief, Foti Koskinas (left) played on this winning Dodge-a-Cop dodgeball team.

As deputy chief, Foti Koskinas (left) played on this winning Dodge-a-Cop dodgeball team.

That human touch is key, Koskinas says.

“The most crucial part of policing is how officers treat everyone — from the first time the call comes in, to when they pull away in their car at the end.”

Some are frivolous, of course. But, Koskinas notes, “every call is important to the person who calls.”

His officers can train with guns and tools, the chief adds. Yet the most vital training — and highest priority, and toughest — is “how to be a human being.”

That means shifting from the “warrior” us-against-them mentality, to a “guardian” mode.

Koskinas credits Call with bringing experts to help train officers in areas like de-escalation and mental illness. He made sure to put at least one officer with special crisis training on every shift.

A monument outside police headquarters honors fallen officers.

A monument outside police headquarters honors fallen officers.

The Westport Police Department’s strength, Koskinas says, is “without a doubt, our people. We’re very fortunate to have a good, highly educated, hard-working staff. They’re very vested in what they do.”

As chief, Koskinas has several roles. He makes sure his officers have the best training, tools and cars (“that’s their office,” he explains).

He listens to their concerns, and lets them know they’re valued. “My success will be based on how well they answer calls,” Koskinas says.

He also listens to – and understands — the public. “I’ll disagree when I have to, but I’ll always respond when I can,” he says.

He gives high marks to Westporters. “They almost always ask for what they deserve. They’re very reasonable. Their requests are not unrealistic.”

Westport's finest.

Westport’s finest, at the Memorial Day parade. Former chief Dale Call is 2nd from left, flanked by (from left) Sam Arciola, Foti Koskinas and Vincent Penna.

Yet the new police chief is no miracle worker. At any time, there are only 6 or 7 officers on a shift. They answer calls, write reports and handle evidence.

The total force of 63 is down from 72 a decade ago. “We’ve been told to reduce head count,” Koskinas says. “That’s a reality. The town is not less safe than it was. But when people talk about not seeing what they think is enough traffic enforcement, that’s where those 9 positions would help.”

The message he wants Westporters to hear is seen at the bottom of his letterhead: “With courage, to protect the rights of all people.”

Koskinas is proud to treat everyone with utmost respect. “I’ve arrested some real bad guys,” he says (and, though he downplays them, he has the decorations to prove it). “But they leave with respect for the way they were handled.”

The chief wants Westport to know one more thing: “My command staff and I have a true open door policy. Every phone call will be returned. That’s the only way we’ll get better.”

And when you hear Foti Koskinas’ voice, you’ll never know that just 25 years ago, he was a newly arrived 6th grader — a boy who spoke not one word of English.

What So Proudly We Hail!

The Jesup Road side of police headquarters sports a new look:

Police station flag

Police Chief Dale Call says it was loaned by a veteran who wishes to remain anonymous.

“He is proud to have served, and is a big supporter of the service done by our military and law enforcement every day,” the chief explains. “We’re proud to display it.”

The flag will hang — proudly — through Memorial Day.

More On Lees

Dale Call’s day job is Westport Chief of Police.

In his spare time, he does detective work — on Westport’s history.

Following up on yesterday’s post, referencing the Lees’ twine manufacturing company — and Mary Palmieri Gai’s additional comments, remembering Lees’ Richmondville mill and surrounding real estate — Dale writes that the Leeses were “a fairly large family, and pretty prominent Westporters back in the day.”

Edward M. Lees (Courtesy of Dale Call)

Edward M. Lees (Courtesy of Dale Call)

They began selling their significant landholdings in the 1920s — but the name survives, thanks to Lees Pond, Lees Dam and Lees Lane, all in the Richmondville area.

Edward Lees was a Westport postmaster, and a lawyer. Dale thinks he had little to do with the mill, which belonged to his father, John.

Dale also knows quite a bit about Fairfield’s 17th Regiment, which was mentioned yesterday, and in which many Westporters fought during the Civil War. A number of soldiers were Dale’s ancestors.

Edward Lees joined the regiment too, ending the war as a 2nd lieutenant in Company K. He was wounded at Gettysburg, and captured at the Battle of Chancellorsville — which, Dale notes, began 150 years ago yesterday.

Stop, Thief!

Hot on the heels of another torrid “06880” discussion, the Westport Police Department notes that they have received “a number of phone calls” regarding the theft of campaign signs. They remind Westporters that this is not exactly legal.

Chief Dale Call says: “The taking of campaign signs from either private or public property that their presence is allowed on will not be tolerated, and is subject to a criminal arrest.”

He offers this alternative: “A better way to indicate a person’s voting preference is at the polls.”

Improved Terrain

Less than 2 weeks ago, Crescent Road was under siege. Overflow parking, trash and noise from the new Terrain was making life unbearable for residents of that once-quiet street looping peacefully behind the new store, from McDonald’s to the fire station.

Cliff Montagna wrote “06880.” Calmly but none-too-pleasedly, he stated his case.

Almost instantly, the police and Planning and Zoning went to work. Today, Cliff emailed this:

Just wanted to post an update on the very improved situation here on Crescent Road.

I understand Police Chief Dale Call had a discussion with the Terrain management team, and many of our safety concerns have been addressed. Big thanks to Chief Call for your help!

Our school bus can now get down Crescent Road. There is no more parking up and down the road or in our driveways.

I do think we should consider petitioning the P&Z to activate the 47 reserve parking spaces for this site.  There are 6 or 7 parking spots around back that are filled in with storage items and unable to be used, and the Terrain staff employs a valet parking system as the existing parking is just not adequate.  It’s a thought.

Thanks again, Dan.

Well, I’d like to take credit. But the praise goes to our police department, the folks at P&Z, and Terrain’s management.

Hey, Washington: Are you listening? This is the way government and the private sector are supposed to work.

It’s called “common sense.” And “cooperation.”

Calm reigns at Terrain.

Accidents Continue To Happen

Yesterday’s post — citing Police Department statistics refuting the idea on “06880” and other blogs of a recent upsurge in automobile accidents — brought plenty of comments.  And a few private emails.

One came from Dale Call, the deputy chief who sent out the info I quoted.  In the interest of continuing this conversation — and because, let’s face it, who wants to get on the cops’ bad side? — I’m passing along his latest thoughts.

First, he says, “06880” commenter Diane Cady — who wrote

this is not just about motor vehicle accidents.  This is about dangerous driving — the step before the accident.  Speeding, talking on cell phone, disregarding stop signs and speed limits unfortunately signifies a certain disrespect for others, and a sense of entitlement.  It is, also, putting life at risk —

was right.

However, Dale adds, the “car stop” numbers he included were part of the department’s effort to stop “poor and dangerous driving behavior before those accidents occur.”

Second, Dale says, we should stop calling them “accidents,” and instead say “crashes.”

“Too many of these are the result of someone doing something dumb or dangerous, and being perfectly aware that that is the case.”  The result, Dale notes, is no “accident.”

An "accident" -- or a "crash." The road conditions sure don't look dangerous...

Finally, he notes, the number of “minor” accidents crashes — the fender-bender types — can be trended by looking at the number of reported incidents in private parking lots.  Most are reported only for insurance purposes, Dale says, and they’ve stayed fairly consistent:  around 300 a year, for the past 10 years.

“Serious” crashes are down by 52% over the past decade.

“Better cars?  More enforcement?” Dale asks.

“I don’t know.  But whatever the reason, I think everyone should be glad to see that kind of reduction.”

We are.

Still, we need to be careful — of the way we drive, and of the way others do.

As another cop – Sgt. Phil Esterhaus — always said:  “Hey, be careful out there.”

Accidents Don’t Happen

You know all those accidents you’ve been reading — and commenting — about?

According to the Westport Police Department, there are fewer now than there used to be.

In a press release sent to local media — but not “06880” — deputy chief Dale Call said:  “In recent weeks numerous comments have been posted on several local news blogs regarding the seeming increase in motor vehicle accidents on Town of Westport roads.”

Over the past decade, however, motor vehicle accidents have decreased 22 percent.  Vehicles involving injuries are down a whopping 52 percent.

Responding to comments on “06880” and other blogs that cops seem to turn a blind eye to speeding, cell phone use and other contributing factors, Call said that the number of cars stopped, and ticketed or warned, has increased by 173 percent.  Each year, he said, the numbers grow.

Blog reports, Call continued, contribute to the misperception that we’re more accident-prone than we used to be.

But, he added, it’s all good.

“We do pay attention to all the blogs and read the comments,” the deputy chief said.  “We take a lot out of what we read. Perception counts for a lot.”

Or, as Groucho Marx said:  “Are you going to believe me, or what you see with your own eyes?”

Accidents like this one last week happen less frequently than a decade ago, statistics show. (Photo by Dave Matlow)