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    Saturday, January 28, 2023

    Stonybrook standoff highlights new responsibilities of Ledyard's independent police department

    Ledyard Police chief John Rich, left, shares a laugh with officers of his department, during roll call, for the evening shift, at the Ledyard Police Department, Monday, April18, 2016. (Tim Martin/The Day)
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    Ledyard — When the call came into the Ledyard Emergency Communications Center that an unstable man, who allegedly bound and assaulted his ex-girlfriend, had barricaded himself in his Stonybrook Road home on April 9, Ledyard Police Chief John Rich was in the middle of a haircut.

    Dispatch had forwarded the call up the chain of command to Lt. Ken Creutz, who called Rich.

    "Because we had very preliminary information what I said to (Creutz) was: 'Call me if this turns into a barricaded subject' ... as I was stepping out of the chair and taking out my wallet, he called me," said Rich.

    Since an independent police department was created in February that is no longer a part of the resident state trooper program, responsibility for larger cases — including everything from dispatch to patrol and evidence collection — has become theirs.

    The resident state trooper program has long provided dispatch and community policing to municipalities that do not have police departments of their own. Municipalities foot the bill for one or more state troopers. Ledyard was paying upwards of $140,000 annually.

    In the case of Ledyard, the resident state trooper, who was a sergeant, managed and supervised the local force, previously known as constables.

    An unusually busy February and March, followed by a standoff with a despondent man in April, tested the department as officers adjusted to their new responsibilities and protocol.

    In the case of Christopher Mims on Stonybrook Road, the call for the barricaded subject would have looked different a few months ago. Dispatchers with Ledyard's Emergency Communications Center would have forwarded a call from a woman who escaped from the home to dispatchers with Troop E in Montville. Then, possibly, a sergeant on duty there would have made decisions about how to respond and informed the Ledyard resident state trooper.

    Now Ledyard's on-duty supervisor takes charge. Officer Fred Whitlock received the call and forwarded it to Sgt. Michael Ravenelle, an officer with 27 years of experience, who directed the investigation. Whitlock met with the victim near the former Norwich Hospital property and followed her to the hospital, while Ravenelle and Officer Bill Nott went to the Stonybrook Road home to secure the perimeter. 

    Ravenelle requested mutual aid, and Montville responded as well as a K9 team from Norwich. This would likely not have happened under the state police system, he said, because the state police would have sent their own troopers and Ravenelle would not have been authorized to request support from Norwich.

    "It wasn't someone else across the river saying it would be done differently. ... I waited 15 years to be a sergeant and I finally am one," Ravenelle said.

    Officer Dan Gagnon, a longtime patrol officer with the Ledyard Police Department, who secured the perimeter during the standoff, said the response was handled well.

    "It wasn't that they weren't real sergeants, it's that they could always be trumped by state police sergeants," Gagnon said.

    Ravenelle then called detective Christopher Cadro, an 18-year veteran of the Ledyard police, to meet with the victim at The William W. Backus Hospital to take a statement.

    Under the resident state trooper system, Troop E could send its own detectives to investigate crimes and relieve the local department. That was an issue, said Cadro, especially in the early stages of an investigation.

    "I think it's much more efficient knowing who is going to take the case when you get there," Cadro said.

    For a case this serious, Cadro had no doubt who would have ended up leading the investigation.

    "They would have taken the whole thing," Cadro said of the state police. "We probably would not have had any further involvement."

    After determining that Mims was alone in the house, Ravenelle set up a perimeter with Nott. State police arrived, as well as officers from Montville and Norwich's K9 unit and Chief Rich, who took command of the scene.

    As officers in the field handled the standoff, which lasted six hours, dispatchers fielded calls from concerned residents nearby and the media. 

    For years the dispatch center only dispatched for the ambulance companies, Preston, Gales Ferry and Ledyard fire departments.

    Once the police department went independent, the dispatchers became responsible for a variety of police duties, including verifying information in various criminal and motor vehicle databases and always knowing the whereabouts and needs of the officers on patrol.

    Ruby York, who has worked as a dispatcher for 17 years, said the work increased significantly when the police department became independent.

    "It's a tremendous, huge responsibility ... we're a close-knit department, we know each other's kids, each other's families," York said.

    During the standoff, Creutz was managing patrol and responding to calls from the media from a room next to the dispatchers while Rich managed the scene at Stonybrook.

    As the lieutenant, Creutz is responsible for patrol management and personnel assignments.

    Creutz also took over as the department's public information officer in February, making use of his journalism degree at Ohio State in writing news releases and managing the department's social media presence.

    "I don't think I was prepared for what an independent agency has to be thinking about on a daily basis ... we were worrying about day-to-day operations, so all of a sudden having to worry about everything going on in the background — the two coupled together was a lot," Creutz said.

    At the scene, Rich was trying to manage security and think about the next steps in the investigation.

    Hired a few months before, Rich had a long career with the Connecticut State Police, having served as Ledyard's resident state trooper from 2005 to 2009. He was also executive officer of State Police Troop D in Danielson and a detective with the Eastern District Major Crimes Squad. That experience, he said, taught him how to investigate "everything and anything."

    Speaking about the call to Stonybrook Road, Rich said: "In the back of my mind there's a crime scene in there, too. I started to get a couple of guys, including Ken (Creutz), to start on a crime scene search warrant."

    Around midnight, the warrant was signed and then executed on the house, where Cadro processed evidence at the scene.

    Evidence storage is also a big part of the change. The department has tagged and stored more than 200 pieces of evidence in the past few months, whereas previously all the evidence was sent to the State Police Troop E barracks.

    Prisoners would also have to be transported there and paperwork filled out, which took anywhere from an hour to several hours, said Ravenelle.

    By around 1:30 a.m. Cadro was on scene collecting evidence which he later logged and stored at the department's locker.

    As the investigation continued, the department assumed additional services that the state police would have picked up in the past, such as posting an officer at the hospital room for the duration of the victim's stay.

    While Ledyard police have more responsibilities now, many officers also have greater pride in the department as a result of their new independence.

    "I think they're using the talents that they have to a greater degree because they have the opportunity to do so," Cadro said.

    n.lynch@theday.com

    Ledyard Police chief John Rich, top center, speaks with officers of his department, during roll call, for the evening shift, at the Ledyard Police Department, Monday, April18, 2016. Officer first class Dan Gagnon, left foreground and Sgt. Eric Bushor, right, look on. (Tim Martin/The Day)
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