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    Tuesday, March 05, 2024

    Newest police recruit is at home in East Lyme

    Nadia Banever poses for a portrait at the East Lyme Public Safety Building on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023. She is the first Black female police officer on the force and has lived in the community and worked in the local school system. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    East Lyme ― The career trajectory for the police department’s newest recruit goes back to the Black Point Beach Club neighborhood where Nadia Banever, then 10 years old, crossed paths with a police officer who took her questions seriously.

    Banever, 30, was adopted from Haiti by parents who raised her in Farmington as the youngest of 10 siblings. She recalled spending summers in Niantic, where a noise complaint lodged by her parents against a group of rowdy teenagers two decades ago left an impression she carries with her today.

    She said she didn’t think she was loud enough for the responding officer to hear when she told one of her brothers she was interested in seeing the inside of the cruiser.

    “My brother was like, ‘well, the only way you’re going to see inside there is if you get arrested,’” she said.

    But the officer turned to her and told her he’d come back the next day. And he did.

    “He took the time out of his day to show me everything, explain everything to me,” she said. “Me being 10, I was only able to retain so much information, but I never forgot how it made me feel and the excitement that it brought.”

    Banever, the first Black female police officer in East Lyme, was sworn in Nov. 13. She will attend the Eastern Connecticut Police Academy in Norwich starting Nov. 27.

    That positive interaction with the East Lyme officer was in the back of her mind when she graduated Sacred Heart University in 2016 with a general studies degree and no certain idea what to do with her life. While she was working as a substitute teacher in the East Lyme school system, the idea of entering the law enforcement profession continued to take focus as she decided to earn a master’s degree in counseling education from St. Bonaventure University in New York.

    “If I want to be a police officer, I want to make sure I’m communicating effectively and I want whoever I'm coming into contact with to feel heard and supported, and I want to make sure I’m doing my job to my best ability,” she said.

    The concept was reinforced when she took home her master’s degree in 2020 amid nationwide protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who was killed by then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

    “One of the other reasons why I wanted to go into law enforcement was because there is a divide that I feel the media has created between minority communities and law enforcement personnel,” she said. “Whatever is being shown on the TV or the radio, there's always parts of the story missing.”

    She acknowledged her decision was not without controversy. Some of her friends called her a traitor, she said. But the reaction reaffirmed her commitment to making sure the public gets the full story about communities of color and the police officers sworn to protect them.

    “I do know how to talk to people effectively and calm situations down,” she said. “If I’m ever in that position, which I’m sure I will be, I just want to show whoever I am interacting with, whether they’re a minority or not, that we all can work together. It’s possible.”

    A diverse job

    Banever came to the United States as a malnourished infant welcomed into the household of Jennifer and Tom Banever. That’s when Jennifer Banever earned the Hartford Courant’s 1994 Mother of the Year award for her work raising a family that now comprises an even mix of adopted and biological children.

    The police recruit said struggles with math stemming from those early medical issues in Haiti led her mother to pull her out of the public school system, along with four siblings adopted from Honduras, for a more personalized education that took her through graduation.

    “Because I had all the extra help growing up, it was kind of in my nature to want to give back and help people,” she said.

    With her master’s degree in hand, she started the application process for police jobs only to become frustrated by failing the agility portion of the entry test. After coming up three situps short of the required number, she doubled her gym time to six days a week and got herself into shape. But then it was the math portion of the written test that stymied her.

    Feeling defeated, she decided to go back to substitute teaching while formulating a plan. Her path took her to the East Lyme Police Department for the fingerprints necessary to return to the school system.

    Matthew Willett, an officer at the time who was promoted to sergeant the same day Banever was sworn in, was the one who took her prints more than a year and a half ago. He recalled asking her if she’d considered joining the local force.

    An eight-year member of the department, Willett said it's always been a focus of his to recruit people into law enforcement.

    “Obviously we know there’s a lot of stigma attached to the profession, so we try as best as we can to kind of pull the veil back and get people interested in the career for the right reasons,” he said. “For them to see what it’s all about ―and not what they see on the news ― that’s important to me.”

    He pointed to Banever’s easy communication style and confidence as evidence she’d be a good fit for the department. He asked her that day if she’d be interested in spending a shift on patrol in what’s known as a civilian ride-along.

    “We should be representative of our population and the folks that we police, so everybody who thinks they can do a career in law enforcement or would be interested, I try to encourage them to come do a ride-along,” he said. “And that’s what I did with Nadia.”

    The patrol, which they embarked on during a weekend evening about a week later, brought them to medical emergencies, a boat fire close to a building and a narcotics seizure.

    “She saw it’s a very diverse job. It’s not just going out and arresting people,” he said.

    For Banever, Willett’s support was instrumental in helping her overcome the frustration she felt at her difficulty passing the written tests.

    “The whole reason I’m here and was able to pass that test and even apply to this department was because of him. I will always be grateful to him for that,” she said.

    It’s a welcoming attitude that goes back to the local officer who returned after a nighttime noise complaint to explain the police cruiser setup to a 10-year-old girl who showed interest.

    Banever doesn’t remember the man’s name but hasn’t forgotten his face. Twenty years later, it’s not one she recognizes among the current officers. But she has every intent to carry on his community policing focus once she graduates the academy in six months.

    “What he did for me, I want to do for others,” she said.

    e.regan@theday.com

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