Keating family members co-author "New London Police Department" book

Everyone needs that acutely focused relative who managed to keep and ultimately organize all those boxes of postcards and clippings and family photos you swore you'd turn into a scrapbook one day.

The folks at Arcadia Publishing might be thought of as a "books" version of that aunt. Instead of chronicling a specific family, though, Arcadia publishes an "Images of America" series comprising photo histories of specific subjects for communities across a number of states, each written by appropriately local authors.

Over the years, several spots in Connecticut have been the focus of Arcadia publications, including the 2000 "Reinventing New London" by The Day's Copy Desk Chief John J. Ruddy and, in 2015, "New London," by the father/daughter team Lawrence and Catherine Keating.

Now, the Keatings, who are New London natives and still live next door to one another in the city, are back with an inspired new Arcadia book, "New London Police Department." In a literal and metaphorical way, it's an ideal and appealing project. As the New London Police Department celebrates its 150th anniversary of service and duty, the book captures how ingrained the department is and has been in the city's day-to-day culture and evolution — in an almost familial fashion. Appropriately, the book's third co-author is Catherine's brother and Lawrence's son, Sr. Sgt. Lawrence M. Keating, a 20-year veteran of the New London Police Department.

Getting started

"My father and sister had written books, and when Catherine asked what I thought about a New London Police Department book, it seemed like a great opportunity. It's the 150th anniversary of an organization I'm very proud of working with in a city I'm very proud of," says Sgt. Keating, just off duty on a recent Tuesday. "I wasn't sure how I could help out other than as a policeman, but once I got involved in the book, it became a fun and challenging project."

"New London Police Department" is an amazing, affectionate, revealing and poignant photo history of the organization and the city it has served. The first permanent New London police station was approved by the city council as a "nightwatch" facility in 1868 with 17 patrolmen keeping order. By 1910, the busy seaport of New London had doubled in size, necessitating a larger force and presence. Over the years, the department has coordinated and adapted to fit the city's needs and growth, often doing so with budgetary limitations and a spirit of doing whatever is necessary to perform their duties.

The book is arranged chronologically, with an astonishing collection of photographs — portraits and official images, family and newspaper images, contextual shots of city life and locations — as well as department documents; recruiting posters; report excerpts, duty rosters and equipment lists; invoices; letters and telegrams; community service posters and pamphlets; and more, all supported by illuminating and thoroughly researched cutlines and text.

"I don't think we'd have written this book if not for my brother," says Catherine Keating, speaking with her father last week by phone. "He was certainly the inspiration, and Dad and I thought of the book as a celebration of the department rather than a true history — something that shared the highlights over a century and a half.

"We ran it by my brother: Did he like the idea and, if so, would he run it by Chief (Peter G.) Reichard? And it turned out both of them thought it was a great idea. Chief Reichard said, 'Whatever I can do to help or give you that I can share.' The whole department's been very supportive."

"There were a number of people who contributed to this book and all efforts are appreciated," Reichard says by email. "The book is evidence of the long lasting relationship the NLPD has had with the community."

A long process

As Catherine and her father knew from their previous Arcadia book, there's a process to putting together a book based around photographs, and it requires a great deal of work and cooperation from a lot of folks just to accumulate the images. The Keatings reached out to the New London Police Union, AFSCME Local 72, and the elder Keating says union treasurer Roger Baker sent out email and Facebook posts and union newsletter notices to reach current members and retirees. Families with generational ties to the department also helped out, and plenty of time was spent in facilities like the New London Public Library and the Connecticut Historical Society.

"All these sources led us to so many names and faces, then we doubled back to Excel and Word databases, and we just started cross-checking names and dates," Catherine Keating explains. "As the word got out and people started to help, we were overwhelmed by department and family pride and love and dedication there is to these officers — the officers themselves but also spouses and widows and siblings and children ... That was the recurring theme that hopefully unites the book. And in that way we were able to assemble so many photos and clippings and memories."

"Well, I definitely have a new respect for writers and journalism," the younger Lawrence laughs. "All the back and forth and edits and deadlines ... I don't think I appreciated how much work there'd be after we THOUGHT we'd finished the book."

While the book-savvy Keatings had their established process, the fact that they were learning so much about the department and how it fit into the overall quilt of New London meant that all three authors were instinctively dividing up responsibilities by instinct as well as logic.

"I handled the work within the (police department)," says Sgt. Keating, "verifying badge numbers and work history and so forth. My sister had it all on a computer and kept that up to date, and dad did a lot of the historical work outside the building. We're a close family and it was fun to work with them, though the truth is, we were all so busy with our own assignments that we rarely all sat down together."

A community fabric

All three Keatings says they were humbled by so many things they learned over the course of writing the book, ranging from support by civilians and business owners to the fact that thousands used to turn out to department parades to the changes in working conditions over the years.

"New London was ahead of the game in hiring women," Catherine Keating says. "The department had a woman patrol officer in 1933, and they always had a female matron to protect women and children in domestic situations."

She was also impressed by how police — and firefighters — are interwoven into community life.

"They're in the fabric of every event in the city. If a baby being born or a there's a football game, power lines down or car wrecks ... whatever, there's always a presence. And I hope the book helps that we as citizens don't take them for granted," she says.

From his policeman's perspective, Lawrence Keating says he has a greater appreciation for how technology and culture have advanced the department's efforts.

"How we actually investigate a crime has changed significantly," he says. "There used to be a lot more street investigation where you physically had to get out of the car. But there's a lot of computer investigation, particularly in terms of online crime with drug complexities and child exploitation. You can get a sense of that looking over the decades of photos."

At the same time, he says, "It's also glaring to me how we're still dealing with a lot of the same challenges. We want to protect the community, and we'd love to have a larger work force and more equipment. But what you see (in the book) is that, through the years, the commitment has always been to get the job done."

The Keatings have already had a few signing events in celebration of "New London Police Department" and are hoping to have more. The book is available at Studio 33 Framing on Bank Street, and arrangements are being made to stock it in the L+M Hospital gift shop, where all profits will go back to the hospital.

"It's been a real balancing act between exhaustion and exhilaration," Catherine Keating laughs, "but it's been worth it, both as a family project and as a book about a worthy organization."

"I've been very humbled by the support of the officers I work with and the families of former officers, as well as just the citizens who've been so kind to us," Sgt. Keating says.

He adds there hasn't been any ribbing from colleagues about his new status as an author, even when he signs copies of the book at events.

"I was uncertain about the autographs aspect," he says. "What I didn't expect was how many people thought it was important for us to sign, often with personalizations. There's been a lot of emotion, laughing and crying. Boy, that means a lot."

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