Three veteran officers retire from New London police department

New London — Three longtime and well-respected police officers are retiring this month, departing with more than 80 years of combined law enforcement experience and with what Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard said is an institutional knowledge that is hard to replace.

Past and present New London officers were expected to gather Friday at the Bulkeley House Saloon to trade war stories with retiring Sergeants Kevin Barney and Michael Strecker, and Master Patrolman Michael Cavanaugh.

Cavanaugh has 32 years and 10 months of work for the city under his belt and is a third generation New London police officer. He followed in the footsteps of his father, Ronald, and grandfather, Jack, among other family members who worked at the department.

Cavanaugh, 54, was born and raised in New London and following service in the U.S. Army started full time with the department in 1984. He also served 20 years in the Connecticut Army National Guard, called to active service in 1991 as part of Operation Desert Storm.

“It’s been good to me. The job fits my personality,” Cavanaugh said. “I’ve never been what you would call a hothead. I’m good at talking with people. Because of my father, I retained that old-school philosophy that arrest is a last resort.”

Things have changed, however, from his father’s days when he said liquor laws were a bit more lenient. It was a time, Cavanaugh said, that when encountering a suspected drunken driver, “you took the guy’s keys, threw them 100 yards down the road and told him you can drive when you find them.”

Cavanaugh said he is old enough to remember a time when there were no portable radios and reports were typed on a manual typewriter. Typing an “o” instead of an “i” in his first name on a report is how he gained the nickname “Moke.”

One of the many memories he said will always stick with him was a medical call three days before Christmas. A 3-month-old infant was not breathing. The mother was crying and the infant was blue. Cavanaugh held the baby in one arm and slapped the back with the other, clearing the child’s airway.

“I know at least that baby made it to see that Christmas,” he said.

Married with two teenage daughters, Cavanaugh said life after policing will afford him more time with his family, something he said he plans to cherish.

Sgt. Kevin Barney will retire later this month after 26 years on the job. He is the current training officer and a “consummate professional,” according to former New London Deputy Police Chief Marshall “Chip” Segar.

“He was my training officer when I came on the job. He’s basically the one who showed me the ropes,” Segar said.

Segar said Barney joined the department later in life and was a peer and in some cases a father figure to younger officers at the department. Barney came to New London from Washington, D.C., where he served as a Capitol police officer. Barney was 55 when he was promoted to the rank of sergeant in 2007.

He was a member of both the Crisis Intervention Team and the Domestic Violence Team, a groundbreaking program that allowed for dedicated patrols and follow-ups.

Former Police Captain Kenneth Edwards Jr., who spearheaded the program, said that Barney was well-suited for the cases the team encountered.

“He was always meticulous and dependable. He is soft-spoken and sensitive, which made him especially good with domestic violence cases, where he could show empathy but at the same time stay professional,” Edwards said.

Barney also holds two master's degrees — one in criminal justice and one in sociology.

Sgt. Michael Strecker served his last day Friday after 26 years on the force.

Segar said Strecker was a model “street cop,” who he said excelled at solving street problems and tracking down criminals.

“It’s in his heart. Wearing a uniform, a gun and a badge and catching the bad guys — nobody exemplifies that more than Mike,” Segar said. “He is one of the best officers on the street solving crimes and getting to the bottom of things.”

Edwards agreed, saying “every department needs a Michael Strecker.”

Edwards called Strecker a “hard-driving police officer who wouldn’t quit until he solved the problem type of guy.”

Strecker, who grew up in Waterford, got involved in law enforcement straight out of high school when he joined the U.S. Army in 1982 and became a military police officer. After a short stint in security and as an officer in East Lyme and Ledyard, Strecker joined the New London Police Department in 1989.

“Law enforcement is it for me,” Strecker said. “It’s what I love.”

Some of his best memories came with work with the U.S. Marshal’s Task Force, in which Strecker worked to track and capture wanted felons. He also served with the Statewide Narcotics Task Force, in the department’s VICE squad, and was for a time in charge of an anti-violence team that targeted problem areas in the city with special patrols.

“Overall I love the job. I love being out in the field, interacting with people. But it’s also hard on the family," he said.

Strecker, married 27 years and with three children, said he recently got back involved with coaching youth and high school sports and also umpiring. He plans to take a year off before deciding what to do next.

Strecker admits he may have stayed with the job longer if not for Chief Margaret Ackley.

“Me and the chief do not see eye to eye,” Strecker said.

Strecker, a longtime union vice president, said he thinks he’s been targeted by Ackley, who he called “vindictive” and the source of many of the problems at the department that led to an exodus of officers.

“It’s been a nightmare for the last four or five years. I think she’s put the department in such a bad state.”

Strecker said under better conditions, he might have stayed on longer.

“These officers have a combined experience of nearly 85 years of police work in New London,” Deputy Chief Reichard said. “Losing three senior officers in a smaller police agency will be felt. We will lose their ability to mentor newer officers and we also lose the institutional knowledge they have gained during their tenures here.”

Each officer has reached and surpassed the 25 years required for retirement under the city’s pension plan.

Reichard said the department recently completed promotional tests for several ranks and the city has certified the list.

“The administration has discussed these retirements and has looked at the possibility of promotions in the near future,” Reichard said.

With the department well short of the 80-officer minimum mandated by ordinance, Reichard said the department currently is conducting background investigations on prospective recruits and have been granted two seats in the July police academy class.

“We hope to fill positions that have been left vacant due to the attrition of employees that are currently listed in the budget,” Reichard said.

g.smith@theday.com

Twitter: @SmittyDay

Editor's note: This version corrects the date Michael Cavanaugh was called into active service for Operation Desert Storm. It was 1991.

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