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Police Chief Walks Fine, Difficult Line

Published 02/19/2014 12:00 AM
Updated 02/19/2014 09:38 AM

By Jack Kramer
East Haven Courier

Amid Shifts in Policy, Personnel, Need to Patrol and Protect Remains Unchanged

Editor’s note: No police department in the state has been scrutinized more than East Haven’s. Police Chief Brent Larrabee took over two years ago, after four officers were charged with racial profiling. Larrabee sat down with the East Haven Courier the same day last week the last of those four ex-cops was sentenced to prison. Below are his thoughts on where the department stands today.

The town’s top cop has been in charge of four different police departments in his career and he adamantly and steadfastly calls the East Haven force among the best he’s ever managed.

Brent Larrabee said he is “constantly amazed by the men and women of this police force. They are tired, overworked, over-stressed, unfairly maligned—but they are a great group.”

Larrabee came to East Haven following the February 2012 retirement of chief Leonard Gallo in the wake of four officers’ being arrested and charged with civil rights violations.

Each of those cops has been sentenced or is in prison. Former Sgt. John Miller was sentenced last week to four months in prison. Former police officers David Cari, Dennis Spaulding, and Jason Zullo have been tried, convicted, and sentenced.

The arrests of the cops led to negotiations with the Department of Justice about how the Police Department could improve. The result was the signing of a $2.5 million compliance agreement, through which federal officials agreed to halt litigation in exchange for completing a laundry list of policy changes.

Recently the department hit a federal deadline to complete 24 guidelines, items ranging from completing bias-free police training to establishing a plan that addresses how to communicate with the town’s non-English speaking population.

Besides Larrabee, the town has had two other leaders in its effort to meet Justice Department mandates—attorney Larry Sgrignari and Police Lieutenant Ed Lennon, a 13-year East Haven cop who has led the department compliance training—in addition to doing his regular duties as a lieutenant.

Larrabee’s pride in the department comes through clearly when he talks about Lennon.

“He is simply one of the best cops I’ve ever worked with,” Larrabee said. “We wouldn’t have gotten done what we’ve gotten done without his leadership.”

The chief and Lennon both got their back up—a lot—when talking about the men and women of the East Haven Police Department in an interview with the Courier.

“We have made remarkable progress,” said Lennon. “Every day we have to not only patrol the streets of East Haven, but those same men and women have to go through a rigorous training schedule.”

“And,” added Larrabee, “we’ve done it all while we are under-staffed. We’ve lost officers that we’ve trained to other departments and been hit with retirements. What that means is cops are working long shifts, nights, weekends, holidays.”

Larrabee said he talks “almost daily” with the man who appointed him to the job, Mayor Joseph Maturo, Jr.

The chief said the mayor “has been supportive of the efforts we are making to abide by Justice Department mandates.”

The town’s top cop grimaces when he is asked about how the Police Department and the town are portrayed in the media.

“The less I say about that,” Larrabee said, “the better. Let’s leave it that we are an easy target for some, but we are unfairly targeted.”

When the chief is asked whether he ever tires of the efforts to turn around the image of the department, he shrugs off the question.

“I have a passion for the town, for this job, for the men and women of this department. If I left, for any reason, it would be disruptive to what we have already accomplished here, and what we still have to accomplish.

“I intend to see this through to the end.”

Coming next week: The cost—both in dollars and human toll—of meeting Department of Justice mandates and patrolling the streets of East Haven.

Town News

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