'The Colonel' retires from NLPD
New London - Capt. Steven Crowley started work with the New London Police Department when walking beats were the norm, portable radios were not a given and nearly all of his fellow officers were homegrown.
Affectionately known by his co-workers as "The Colonel," Crowley retired this month after more than three decades at the department, most recently as head of the investigative services division.
"It's time to move on while I can still enjoy some of life," said Crowley this week, just back from a vacation in Italy and appearing more relaxed than co-workers say he's looked in a long time.
Cleaning out his office in the detective division last week, Crowley, 59, reminisced about a job in public service that began in 1979 and followed in the footsteps of his father, the late John F. Crowley, who served 30 years at the department before his retirement.
Crowley rose through the ranks until he was in a position to be a supervisor to his father. He called his dad a "professional" who was content with his work on patrol and never saw a need to take a test for a promotion.
It was a time in New London when, Crowley said, he and other officers knew most of the families of the people they were arresting and yet managed somehow not to make too many enemies along the way.
"I think it's because I've always tried to treat people with dignity and respect," Crowley said. "I grew up here. I'm terribly invested in New London and I never regretted it."
Police work has changed dramatically since he started as a part-time supernumerary officer, when the city was still what he called a "Navy town" and Bank Street had more than double the number of bars it has today. The police station was located on Union Street at the time.
He said drugs and violence have increased through the years and the department, especially with the loss of manpower in recent years, has its hands full.
At retirement Crowley was the most senior officer at the department in terms of years of service. He has worked under five police chiefs.
Fellow officers say he got his nickname early in his career for his ability to take charge of a situation.
"Even as a sergeant he was well respected for his leadership. You knew when he showed up at the scene he was in charge," said Detective Sgt. Robert Pickett. "He is quick to give directions … fast on his feet."
Pickett said Crowley was a "go-to guy," on just about any aspect of policing and a great source of institutional knowledge that will be missed.
Acting Police Chief Peter Reichard called Crowley "a cornerstone of the department" who dedicated his life to the department and the city.
"Since coming to the New London Police Department Steve has been one of the people that I can depend on," Reichard said. "The knowledge he has of the city and the agency is second to none, and he is irreplaceable. We are all going to miss Steve when he retires and I wish him the best in his retirement."
One of the keys to Crowley's longevity is perhaps his apolitical nature. Crowley survived the last five years of tumult, which saw many of the top supervisors leave or be forced out of the department. There was also a large exodus of officers as threats of layoffs loomed.
"I don't want any part of politics," Crowley said. "I've stayed neutral through all of it and focused on what I'm doing. For a little city we're a pretty busy place and there is plenty to do."
He does, however, lament the loss of a police force that was either raised or lived in the city. He said he can count on one hand the number of officers who today live in the city. The job has also gotten tougher, he said, with the drop in manpower.
"The city as a whole has not done a good job. You cannot tell college-educated people 'We may have to lay you off.' You can't keep doing that. They left in droves," he said.
The detective division is also shorthanded, down from six to four detectives and now without a captain. Reichard said the two remaining captains will share Crowley's duties.
As to the current situation at the department, including the fact that Chief Margaret Ackley is suspended, Crowley said "everybody would like to get it over with, no matter which way." Reichard is acting chief while Ackley is investigated by the city for inappropriate conduct alleged by Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio.
"Nobody likes to be in limbo," Crowley said.
Crowley's time at the department includes work in the traffic division investigating accidents and as head of the patrol division. Crowley was never a detective himself before taking charge of the division under Ackley but said he was involved in most of the major crimes that occurred in the city.
He leaves detectives with one unsolved homicide and two cold cases.
Crowley said he has fond memories of working with fellow officers, especially at special events that included Sailfest and Pappy's Run, a massive motorcycle rally that used to start on Colman Street.
There are also the tougher duties, the violence, the fatalities, late nights and missed holidays. Pickett recalls that Crowley and detectives spent last Christmas investigating a homicide.
The one incident that Crowley said stuck with him through the years is the one time in his career he was forced to shoot and kill a man.
It happened in 1993 when Dale James, a suspect in multiple city robberies, had escaped custody while at the Broad Street courthouse and was the subject of a manhunt. Crowley and others found him behind an abandoned house on Waller Street.
He was a sergeant at the time and confronted James, ordering him to drop the hatchet and knife he was carrying. Crowley and recently retired detective Frank Jarvis fired their weapons.
"He came out with an ax. I shot him. I was never the same after that," he said. "It changed me forever. I've never looked at people the same way."
A report from former state's attorney C. Robert Satti at the time ruled the use of deadly force justified, and "necessary in light of the circumstances."
Necessary or not, Crowley said it's something that no police officer takes pleasure in doing.
Crowley said in retirement he intends to split time between New London and his property on a golf course in Florida. He lives with partner Patricia Romano.
IF YOU GO
Retirement party for Crowley from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Dec. 19 at Tony D's Restaurant on Huntington Street. Tickets are $15. RSVP by Dec. 12 to Todd Bergeson, Brian Laurie, Matt Galante or Lori Robinson at the New London Police Department.
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