Keating retiring after 25 years on the job in New London

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New London — Police Capt. Lawrence J. Keating Jr., who retired Friday after 25 years of service, said it was a good time to be a cop when he was hired in 1995.

Keating, 50, joined the department at the tail end of a federal grant-funded expansion that grew its ranks to nearly 100 sworn officers. The department was busier back then, with the now empty Crystal Avenue high-rise apartments at full capacity and more street-based drug deals taking place, he said.

A Mystic native, he grew up in a blended family of 10 children. His mother, the late Ann Keating, was a nurse, and his father, the late Lawrence J. Keating Sr., a teacher. Keating graduated from Fitch Senior High School and was working in the coin department at Foxwoods Resort Casino when he joined the police department because he wanted a job where he would do something different every day.

Keating said he and his contemporaries, including recent retirees Keith Crandall and Larry Lee, were "thrown to the wolves" when they were assigned to do community policing and bicycle patrols under the Safe Neighborhoods program.

He loved it.

"It was what I expected, and more," Keating said during an interview this past week in his office at police headquarters, where he had yet to take down the Red Sox, Patriots and Clash posters. 

Despite the stress of being a police officer, Keating said he is leaving on a positive note, having had a great career. He said it's time to go, and that he would be lying low for a while as he considers a couple of future job possibilities.

He and his wife, Jennifer, a nurse, live in Waterford and have two grown sons, 23-year-old Jake and 21-year-old Justin.

Keating is not subtle, nor he is overly sentimental. He's funny and direct and given to abbreviated philosophies, such as "Mess up, fess up."

He said that back in the 1990s, while chasing around some of the young people causing trouble on the streets of New London, he started to learn some of their back stories, which usually involved problems at home.

"We had to make our stats, and they were going wayward," Keating said. "But when they got out of jail it was like, 'Don't you get sick of this?'"

Keating said he's watched a lot of those people rise above their problems to become successful carpenters, roofers, landscapers and auto mechanics.

One of them was Joey Stefano-Scialabba, now a 40-year-old with a thriving carpentry business. These days, the cop and the carpenter often laugh about the earlier times over a beer at the Birdseye Cafe.

"He was one of the guys that helped us see a different side of things," Stefano-Scialabba said. "We didn't see that growing up. What we saw was what we were around. He didn't break you down and make you feel like nothing, and that's exactly what a kid like that didn't need. There were always encouraging words, like, 'What are you doing with your life?'"

Keating was promoted through the ranks while serving under three different police chiefs: Bruce Rinehart, Margaret "Peg" Ackley and the current one, Peter Reichard.

"I always looked at it like, 'You had a different store owner. Rinehart ran it one way. Ackley did some things different and Reichard does things his way," Keating said. "I adapted. That's why I'm here."

He served as a patrolman from 1995 to 2000; youth/DARE officer from 2000 to 2004; detective from 2004 to 2007; sergeant from 2008 to 2013; and ended his career as captain. He would have liked to at least have interviewed for the chief's position when Ackley retired, but said captains were not eligible to apply under a recently revised city policy.  

He endured lawsuits and civilian complaints, too.

Keating was one of five police officers a federal jury found liable for the 1997 death of Edward J. Nolan, a mentally ill man, after a scuffle on Bank Street. The incident occurred shortly after the closure of Norwich State Hospital and prompted creation of the Crisis Intervention Team of officers trained to de-escalate such situations.

Chief Reichard said Keating, known as "LJ" within the department, has been an integral part of the management team since being promoted to captain.

"In the last number of years, he's been the command officer of the Support Services Division, which includes the record room, dispatch and other functions of the PD," Reichard said. "He's a wealth of knowledge for his past 25 years in the PD, and his retirement is a loss to the whole community."

Reichard said the department would not immediately be naming another captain and, depending on the outcome of union negotiations, may be restructuring the police department.

For nearly 20 years, Keating has shared his first and last names with another police officer, Training Sgt. Lawrence M. Keating. The two are unrelated and have long since figured out how to quickly identify the misdirected phone calls and emails they received regularly.

Most recently, Sgt. LM Keating had been reporting directly to Capt. LJ Keating.

"He's always been someone who was very honest with you with his opinion, and I mean that in a good way," Sgt. Keating said of his retiring supervisor. "You always knew where you stood. He would tell you if something needed to be corrected, or if you did  a good job."

With LJ Keating's departure, "I get my name back, but we lose a lot," he said.

k.florin@theday.com

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