Veteran New London police lieutenant retires

In this 2011 Day file photo, Detective Sgt. George Potts of the New London Police Department helps Marcia Monger, 4, of Norwich take a turn at bat during a ball game being played at the Police Community Relations Committee's Fun at The Park event held Saturday, June 18, 2011 at Fulton Park in New London. The event was cosponsored by the Police Community Relations Committee, police union, Neighborhood Alliance and the Boys and Girls Club. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
In this 2011 Day file photo, Detective Sgt. George Potts of the New London Police Department helps Marcia Monger, 4, of Norwich take a turn at bat during a ball game being played at the Police Community Relations Committee's Fun at The Park event held Saturday, June 18, 2011 at Fulton Park in New London. The event was cosponsored by the Police Community Relations Committee, police union, Neighborhood Alliance and the Boys and Girls Club. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

New London — Police Lt. George Potts Jr. worked his final day last Monday, and departs after 25 years with a hint of bitterness.

He still loves police work, but the former Officer of the Year says he always had planned to work his entire life in the city where he was born and raised and still resides with his family. He said conditions at the department, however, have deteriorated in the past few years under Chief Margaret Ackley and “it was just time.”

“If you had mentioned retirement to me five years ago, I would have laughed at you,” Potts said. “I’ve always joked that I would be here 35 years and eventually they’d have to get rid of me.”

Potts, 45, started his law enforcement career in 1990 when he was eager to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and several uncles, all New London police officers.

“That’s all I wanted to be growing up,” Potts said. “I can remember sitting around with my grandfather telling stories — not about catching the bad guys, but how he was able to help somebody that day. When we were out in public, people would come up to him. He was respected. He was looked up to.”

While things have changed for police officers in general, Potts said he still gets a fair amount of respect from residents because he still lives here and continues to interact with the community.

“I think it comes from treating people with respect. I even hear from people I’ve arrested,” he said. “A lot of people call me or even stop by for advice. … Maybe they’re looking for guidance and don’t want to call the police department.”

Potts coaches recreational basketball and umpires youth baseball. He is a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission and formerly a member of the traffic commission. Potts also showed interest in becoming a City Council member in 2011, but ultimately found out it would be a conflict because of his position.

His former coworkers say Potts will be a hard officer to replace.

Former Captain Steve Crowley said he knew Potts before he became a police officer and called him an “instinctual guy,” with a nose for police work.

“They’re going to miss a guy like that down there,” Crowley said.

Potts is a former K9 handler who spent nearly eight years with a canine partner. Crowley said one of the advantages to having a K9 handler who lives in the city was response time.

“Not only was he good with the dog, but we could call him in the middle of the night and he would be out and ready within five to 10 minutes,” Crowley said.

Former Captain William Dittman, now the chief of police at the Mashantucket Pequot Police Department, called Potts a “cop’s cop,” and a “good guy.”

“I think he had an advantage because like me he was born and grew up in New London,” Dittman said. “It made it easier for him to deal with people. The biggest thing was he was always fair and honest and always gave it his all.”

In addition to his time as a dog handler, Potts was handpicked to become a member of the city’s first anti-violence team, served as a detective in the VICE division and was a sergeant in the detective division.

Potts said that he hopes the turmoil at the department dies down at some point for the benefit of the remaining officers. Because of the low manpower levels at the department and mandated extra shifts, Potts said he gives credit to the remaining officers.

“It shows the fortitude of the cops who are still there and are able to do their jobs, especially with what is by far the lowest morale the place has ever seen,” Potts said. “To the layperson, the taxpayer, they don’t see how bad it is because the cops are still able to do good police work.”

Potts said the turmoil with Chief Ackley suing the city and her suspension by the mayor has trickled down to the officers.

“We’re almost likes kids in a bad marriage,” he said.

Potts said Ackley never talked to him about why he was leaving, but wrote in an email to the City Council that it was because of the bid shift program enacted as part of an agreement several years ago between union membership and city administration. The program allows officers to bid their shifts by seniority rather than work in rotating shifts.

Potts said the chief, and not the bid shift program, is the reason he is leaving.

Officer Todd Lynch, president of the local police union, said Potts was a fair boss and respected in the community.

“Not just because he was a police officer, but because he’s an umpire, a coach and a mentor,” Lynch said. “These are the type of people that when they leave — it hurts especially hard."

Lynch said for the chief to put the blame on the bid shift program is “just disturbing.”

“We’ve said over and over there’s a problem in this department that needs to be fixed. Why are all these people leaving?” Lynch said.

Lynch said more than 33 officers have left over the past four years and just six officers, including four who have yet to graduate from the police academy, have been hired.

g.smith@theday.com

Twitter: @SmittyDay

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