New London's deputy police chief settling in to new job

Buy Photo Dana Jensen/The Day Deputy Chief Peter Reichard of the New London Police Department in his office last week.

New London - On the wall in his comfortable office on the second floor of the city's police department headquarters, Peter Reichard has a framed mug shot of Jim Morrison, the iconic lead singer of The Doors.

Morrison's arrest in New Haven came more than 20 years before Reichard started as a patrol officer there, but, the city's new deputy chief said, he had the honor of meeting Capt. James Kelly, who famously arrested Morrison for inciting a riot and public indecency during a 1967 concert at the New Haven Arena.

Reichard, a Doors fan, knows "the real reason" Morrison was arrested - but he's not quite ready to give up the secret.

A 22-year veteran in the New Haven Police Department, Reichard is about 90 days into his new gig as the deputy chief in New London. He's yet to oversee any incident quite so interesting as a rock star's arrest, but said last week he's felt like a good fit - and welcomed - in his first months on the job.

"Everyone's been totally professional since I've been here and the caliber of police officers that work for the New London Police Department are top notch," he said. "And the people of New London, everyone I have run into, has been more than friendly."

Quickly advanced, then retired

Reichard, a Sturgeon Bay, Wis., native, moved to Connecticut a year after he graduated from high school. He started working in security at a Bradlees department store where he met an off-duty Bridgeport police officer who encouraged him to get into law enforcement.

Reichard has no immediate family with a law enforcement background, but he applied for an opening in New Haven, "scored high enough to get hired there," and trained at the state police academy. He quickly worked his way up the ranks to chief of detectives in 2008 and was promoted to assistant chief of investigations later that same year.

But in 2010, Reichard was suspended and then retired from New Haven and, according to press reports, was asked "to turn in his gun, badge, and keys" when questions arose about his managerial style and standards. He allegedly threatened a detective after taking issue with his work attire, which included a pair of white shoes, the New Haven Register reported.

Reichard also allegedly threatened to arrest the reporter who wrote the story if the reporter ever contacted him again, the Register reported.

At an April press conference announcing his hiring, Reichard said New Haven had conducted an investigation into the allegations and "there were no findings." He acknowledged he had an email exchange with the reporter but said he never threatened an arrest.

During an interview this week, Reichard referred to his previous comments about his departure. When asked to elaborate, he said the incidents were "a bump in my career."

At 42, Reichard was too young for full retirement but took some time off and played "Mr. Mom" with his now 5-year-old son, he said. He later began working as vice president of corporate protective services at Bank of America before learning of the New London opening and applying.

The announcement of Reichard's hiring and his swearing-in a month later in May came during a tense time as the city's budget remained uncertain and Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio had announced the potential layoffs of 10 police officers. In fact, the day after he was hired, the City Council voted not to fund his position and Reichard admitted to some trepidation - "it wasn't easy" - at taking and beginning the job.

"I was walking away from a job I really enjoyed doing and I had some security there," he said. "I was walking into the unknown, basically. The weekend before I started the report was out of 10 possible layoffs in the police department so I knew there was going to be some big administrative challenges and changes that were going to have to take place."

Added Finizio, "Despite the uncertainties, all throughout, I never saw him break a bead of sweat. He avoided all the politics and that's good for him and good for New London because we have a great guy in the deputy chief position."

A fresh perspective

Faced with a tight budget, Reichard made one of his first changes in staffing allocations, which he said has decreased overtime costs and kept officers on at key times.

He moved the 14 officers with the least seniority into two new seven-person shifts: one from noon to 8 p.m. and another from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. Those are the busiest times, Reichard said, so those officers, five more than on other shifts, are deployed to high-crime areas. Also, Reichard said, by having officers overlap other shifts, cops are always on the street, even during afternoon roll call. The overlap also keeps down overtime costs, which often accrue if an officer responds and stays out at an incident just before his shift changes.

"We don't have a minimum staffing here, but there's a number we feel comfortable not having our officers drop below just for public safety and officer safety issues," he said.

Officer Todd Lynch, the department's police union president, said it's been "a work in progress" to keep the department well-staffed throughout each shift but that the administrators have been receptive to the union's thoughts and ideas.

"Any time I have brought to his attention any concerns about staffing numbers being below public safety levels, he has openly listened to that and has tried to take corrective action," Lynch said. "I understand he represents the administration and we're not always going to get along, but even when we don't agree, there appears to be no animosity."

The staffing allocation change is part of the community policing style that Mayor Finizio has preached, Police Chief Margaret Ackley has implemented and Reichard says he has bought into and supports.

"Community policing is the way to go across the country," he said. "Police aren't the only problem solvers, you have to really be engaged in your neighborhood to help yourself in your own neighborhood. Police can't be everywhere. But there's also a couple more deployment issues. Instead of putting a police officer in a car and sending them on call, call, call, we're looking at crime density maps, where more crimes are taking place, and sending officers there."

Finizio said so far, Reichard has proved he's got what it takes, from the administrative side and working with the labor union to implementing new programs and being a visible face within the community.

"I think in Peter Reichard, we have someone who can do all of those things," the mayor said. "It's been a short time, not a full evaluation, but what we've seen so far is very encouraging."

'A cop's cop'

Lynch, the union president, said it's been a tough year for his department. The former deputy chief, well-liked 21-year veteran Marshall Segar, didn't have his contract renewed in January.

Around the same time Segar departed, veteran captains Michael Lacey and William Dittman retired, leaving the city short on experience and administrative staff, Lynch said.

Reichard admitted this week to feeling like an outsider. He said he didn't know the officers or administration, but felt he had the tools and knowledge to be a fit in New London.

"I walked in your shoes for a long time so I know what you're dealing with day in, day out," he said of his approach with the department's rank and file. "I'm trying to learn the way the systems work, trying to learn the people and trying to let them know who I am and how I work and the systems I've dealt with in the past."

Lynch said he has taken to Reichard, whom he called "a cop's cop."

"He came up through the ranks in a city like New Haven, which has the same challenges we have on a bigger stage," Lynch said. "He knows what it's like to stop a car at 2:30 in the morning in a dangerous part of the city, so it's not someone forgetting where they came from."

While recently out on a search for a person wanted on a warrant, Lynch said all of a sudden, Reichard was there, helping with the search. He didn't micro-manage, Lynch said, but came to help and see what officers encounter in the field in New London.

"He's a boss, but I'm sure a little bit, you miss the chase," Lynch said of Reichard. "During an arrest at Sailfest, he was the first one with me. It's not many times you are placing handcuffs on someone with someone in a white shirt standing next to you. He walked with me to the prisoner van and at no time did I feel uncomfortable because he was the deputy chief. You feel like it was one of the guys who showed up to give you a hand."

Reichard said that 90 days in, he's felt the same way - that the officers have earned his respect and he is beginning to earn theirs.

"I've had great interactions with all of them," he said. "I've been out numerous times on weekend nights at the downtown bar closings just to see what kind of incidents they're running into. Plus, other times, just showing up on calls when officers are dispatched on calls just to see what's taking place in the city, just to let everyone know I'm here. That I'm here for the long run."

s.goldstein@theday.com

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