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New London - Newly promoted police Sgt. Matthew Galante might very well have been tracking storms rather than chasing criminals.
While sorting through his options as a student at the University of Connecticut, Galante had pursued meteorology as a major, but later settled on sociology with a minor in criminal justice - torn between his love of the sciences and law enforcement.
An internship at the New London Police Department helped steer him toward his career as a police officer.
His passion for police work paid off Monday with a promotion to the rank of sergeant during a ceremony at City Hall.
The promotion was the result of years of hard work in a variety of roles, "many, many, many commendations and awards and acknowledgments from the department and the public," including recognition as the state's most accomplished K9 team in 2008, according to Police Chief Margaret Ackley.
Galante, in addition to the promotion, was also among a group of officers to receive surprise commendations Monday for their work to solve some major crimes over the past several months.
Sworn into his new rank by Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, Galante bent to one knee to allow his wife, Jennifer, to pin his sergeant's badge to his uniform. He accepted kisses from his two young children, Matthew and Ava, and a standing ovation from those who packed the chambers.
Galante thanked his fellow officers, "from patrol to vice and narcotics to the boys in the bureau."
"As a team we've had a lot of great successes. Without them I wouldn't be where I am today," he said.
Galante called his wife, "the rock," that has helped him through the stressful times.
The promotion was a bittersweet moment, he said, leaving his position as detective where he has spent the last four years working cases from their inception to conclusion.
"I'm looking forward to my new role as a sergeant … and the responsibilities that come with it," he said. "I worked hard to get here."
Galante has been an officer since 1998 when he was hired by the Guilford Police Department, the first of four departments that had offered him a job. New London wasn't hiring at the time, he said, but he jumped at the opportunity in 2001 when it was. He said the department offered a wider array of opportunities.
He started work as a patrol officer as part of Safe Neighborhoods Program. Within the next several years he become mountain bike certified, a member of the marine patrol, a field training officer and was a certified member of the Crisis Intervention Team, trained to handle confrontations with the mentally impaired.
Between 2004 and 2009, Galante and his German Shepherd partner, Ike, were nearly inseparable. In 2008, before his promotion to detective, Galante and Ike won the statewide Daniel Wasson Memorial K9 Award by the Connecticut Police Work Dog Association. Galante said he and Ike had tracked down two suicidal people in Waterford and Norwich that year.
He also distinctly remembers helping to search for a weapon used in a criminal act in Norwich and Ike emerging from underneath a backhoe with the butt of the shotgun in his mouth.
"It was awesome" he said.
Ike passed away last week following complications from a lingering abdominal ailment, a major loss for the entire family, he said.
Galante said he plans to approach his new position as a supervisor in the patrol division by keeping officers working as a team.
Detective Chris Kramer received a distinguished service medal for his work Oct. 25 that led to the arrest and confession from a man charged with manslaughter in the death of a 2-month-old in his care.
Officers Brian Laurie, Joseph Pelchat and Cornelius Rodgers received letters of commendation for their combined efforts with surveillance and investigation on Nov. 29 that helped lead to the apprehension of a suspect in a series of serious crimes and recovery of a loaded firearm.
Capt. Steven Crowley, Sgt. Robert Pickett and detectives William Pero, Richard Curcuro and Matthew Galante received Distinguished Service medals for their work in solving the case of two cousins who allegedly committed a series of home invasions and burglaries, including the robbery of a 91-year-old man. Detective Keith Crandall was honored with a distinguished service medal for the Dec. 5 arrest of a man armed with a pellet gun who police suspect was moments away from robbing a convenience store.