Compassion, professionalism were New London police detective's hallmarks

Retiring Detective Frank Jarvis, the longest-tenured member of the New London Police Department, said of his colleagues, "We have some of the best police officers, and I would walk side by side into anything with any of them."
Retiring Detective Frank Jarvis, the longest-tenured member of the New London Police Department, said of his colleagues, "We have some of the best police officers, and I would walk side by side into anything with any of them." Sean D. Elliot The Day Buy Photo

New London - As he prepared to turn in his pistol and badge Friday afternoon and retire, Detective Franklin S. Jarvis said he would be walking out of police headquarters the same person who walked in 34 years ago.

The 59-year-old has vowed over the years to not let the job make him callous and to treat people with respect, whether they were victims of crime, witnesses or perpetrators. His colleagues said his gentle but firm demeanor has served him well.

"One of his greatest attributes is the fact that he has never lost his compassion for the people he serves or others," said Chief Margaret Ackley, who worked by Jarvis' side for many years in the detective bureau. "It has been an honor to work with him for more than two decades."

Jarvis, whose retirement was effective Saturday, has been hired as the manager of corporate security at the Charter Oak Federal Credit Union. He starts work Tuesday.

"The opportunity presented itself, but at the same time I love this department," he said during an interview Friday. "Sometimes I make the comment that, 'I am this department,' because I've been here for so long."

Jarvis has worked on most of the major crimes that have occurred in the city since the mid-1980s and has served on the committee that organizes the annual Blue Mass in honor of police officers killed in the line of duty and those still working. From time to time, he has written poems about issues that moved him, earning the nickname of "detective poet." Jarvis and his wife, Nancy, a registered nurse, have raised two sons and were delighted recently to become grandparents to a baby girl.

Monsignor Robert Brown, chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Norwich, likened Jarvis to Nelson Mandela, saying he is persuasive and diplomatic and good at bringing people together. They worked together on the Blue Mass committee.

"He has that quality about him and is just a natural leader," said Brown, who added that Jarvis is also a man of faith and a good family man who is deeply in love with his wife.

Taking a break from a hectic last day to reflect on a career that spanned more than three decades and more than half his life, the soft-spoken detective sat in the second-floor conference room, where a coworker had laid out a cake and paper plates in anticipation that Jarvis would eventually finish cleaning out his desk.

Detective Capt. Steven Crowley, who becomes the most senior member of the department with Jarvis' departure, said he and Jarvis joined the department as part-time supernumeraries when the police station was still located on Union Street. Jarvis became a full-time officer first, in November 1979. Only a few officers remain from that era, according to Crowley, who said Jarvis has the kind of experience that can't be replicated. He's also thorough, methodical and professional, Crowley said.

"He's been dedicated to this for a long, long time," Crowley said. "When he gets called out for a shooting in the middle of the night, he's the guy who showed up with a suit and tie on."

Though Jarvis and Crowley don't like to speak about it, they were involved in a shooting in 1993 in which a fugitive who charged at them with a hatchet and knife was killed. Then-State's Attorney C. Robert Satti ruled that the use of deadly force was justified, but the experience was traumatic for everyone involved.

"That was not a good day for the city," said Jarvis. "That was not a good day for the PD. No matter how tough you are, you're not prepared for that."

Having lived here since he was 5 years old - he was born in Aruba and spent his earliest years in St. Martin - Jarvis qualifies as a "New London guy" and says he's not leaving the city he loves.

In August, when he and his wife went to Newtown to present a poem, "Angels Sing," that he wrote in memory of the 20 students and six teachers killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, he said he hoped the offering would reflect well on New London.

And in June, when he addressed the department's poor morale during a City Council meeting, saying he had worked for five police chiefs and never seen things worse, Jarvis said he was not directing his comments at the chief or any other particular person. He said he was upset about the departure of so many good police officers and wanted to convey that everyone - the police administration, the union and city leaders - needs to work together to rebuild the department.

"I was frustrated because it seems the system was totally broken," he said. "My intent was to get this department back on track. We have some of the best police officers, and I would walk side by side into anything with any of them."

Jarvis was promoted to detective in 1983, making him the city's first and only black detective. Looking through a file of news stories about him that have appeared in The Day, he kept shaking his head and saying, "This goes way back," and "That was a long time ago."

In 2001, he and Ackley worked together to apprehend a serial rapist in the Nautilus Drive area, conducting surveillance for several months until they finally caught a suspect who followed Ackley down the street with his fly open. Both of them received commendations.

In 2003, Jarvis elicited a confession from Allen James, who had been carrying his toddler son's remains in a suitcase for several years. Though it was probably one of the worst cases he had ever dealt with, Jarvis said he treated James with respect and dignity.

"I always say 'We're not here to judge people,' " Jarvis said. "We're here as collectors of fact. I tell them, 'When you walk out of here, I want you to remember that I gave you the opportunity to say what you had to say.' Basically all I want to do is get the truth."

Jarvis served as a case officer when 25-year-old Matthew Chew, a well-liked member of the city's arts community, was randomly jumped and fatally stabbed as he walked home from his restaurant job on Huntington Street in 2010. There was a lot of controversy surrounding the case, Jarvis said, but the detectives kept on "trudging" because they had an end goal. Within a month, they had obtained arrest warrants charging six teenagers. All six were convicted and remain incarcerated.

"That was great police work," remembered Detective Matthew Galante, who will be promoted to the rank of sergeant later this month. "It was teamwork. We had a collective effort going on during which we practically lived here."

Galante said Jarvis doesn't pack a case up and send it to records after an arrest is made.

"Frank Jarvis is the type of detective that would hold the hand of the victim's family until the case was adjudicated," he said. "That's the New London way."

Though he'll miss Jarvis, Galante said that getting safely through 34 years on the job and moving on to "greener pastures" in which he can collect a pension and have a second career is "what you hope for" in police work.

Detective Christopher Kramer said he has "looked up" to Jarvis since Jarvis conducted a background check on him 17 years ago during the hiring process. He said Jarvis is compassionate and steady and treats everyone the same.

"He's just a remarkable person, just an outstanding, positive person," said Kramer. "He's a great asset to the community and he's going to be missed."

Over the years, Jarvis has gone into the city's schools to speak with kids about staying off drugs and out of trouble. During investigations, he often runs into people he knows, which can sometimes make things awkward, but also helps instill a trust in the process.

State's Attorney Michael L. Regan, who has known Jarvis since junior high school and graduated from New London High School with him in 1972, said Jarvis' personal knowledge of the city and its people would be "sorely missed."

"The experience he's gained over the years and his knowledge of the people of the City of New London are invaluable," Regan said.

k.florin@theday.com

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