Eastern Connecticut’s finest

As we approach the fifteen-year commemoration of the September 11th attacks, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize our hardworking first-responders: firefighters, police, and paramedics across the country and in eastern Connecticut. Americans have always held first-responders in the highest esteem, but the terrorist attacks in 2001 reminded us of the depth of their commitment to their jobs and communities. I recently had the opportunity to spend several days shadowing police officers from several local departments to get a firsthand look at the work they carry out every day. I would like to share some of the incredible work I saw during these visits.

Rep. Courtney with Sgt. Michael McKinney of the Norwich Police Department.

In early August, as I started the annual month-long district work period, I had the chance to spend the day in Norwich learning more about local police work with Sgt. Michael McKinney, a 17-year veteran of the force and a U.S. Army veteran. During McKinney’s career in Norwich, he has served in many roles including motorcycle patrol, field training, crisis intervention, and as a school resource officer at Teachers’ Memorial Middle School. Lately, McKinney has been closely involved with community policing and engagement initiatives in order to maintain a positive and productive relationship with local residents. He and his colleagues meet regularly with local youth groups, churches and other organizations in order to foster a healthy relationship between the community and the police.

One of the more gratifying parts of my day was viewing the efforts the Department is undertaking to combat opioid abuse in our region. As with several of the local departments I visited last month, Norwich has installed a highly successful drop box for citizens to safely dispose of their unneeded prescription drug products.

Rep. Courtney and a Norwich officer operating the department’s police boat on the Thames River.

I also had the opportunity to ride on the Department’s police boat patrolling the Thames River and the Norwich Marina. I was pleased that I was able to help the Department obtain money to purchase the boat back in 2010. Now, they are using it to monitor river traffic and keep local residents, businesses and boaters on the Thames River safe.

Rep. Courtney with Officer Andrew Hannaford of the Vernon Police Department.

Later the same month, I joined police officer Andrew Hannaford for a ride-along in my hometown of Vernon. He has been a member of the force for four years, and displayed an impressive poise and command of the community. I was pleased to see that Vernon has seamlessly adopted the use of simple, clip on body cameras that have become second nature to the town’s police officers. During my ride, Hannaford and two of his fellow officers responded to a domestic violence call, which was handled firmly and professionally.

The Vernon police also gave me a thorough briefing on the current challenges faced by the town. Like many of our police departments in Eastern Connecticut, they are facing a rise in heroin and opioid use. As a Vernon resident, I came away with a great deal of confidence in the high-quality team Chief Kenney leads to protect the town.

Rep. Courtney with Officer Mike Spellman of the Groton City Police Department.

Finally, I headed to the shoreline to spend a day with Groton City Officer Mike Spellman after he graciously invited me for a ride along. Spellman is a unique public servant: along with being a Groton police officer he is also a Stonington Selectman. He joined the Groton force after a distinguished 20-year career with the Connecticut State Police, where among other things he served as Commander of Troop E. He brings a wealth of experience and maturity to the job and acts as a mentor to younger officers and young people in the community each day. Spellman is also heavily engaged with community policing and interacting with citizens from every walk of life. As far as Spellman is concerned, community policing is the duty of every police officer, and should be every department’s approach to the job.

Rep. Courtney and Officer Spellman standing in front of the police department’s medication disposal box in police headquarters.

I had a chance to witness that approach firsthand while making rounds with Spellman, stopping at high-density housing complexes, local small businesses, public beaches, and one local family that had a crisis a few days earlier. We discussed the Department’s efforts to stem the heroin and opioid crisis which includes a drop box for leftover medication similar to those in other communities. The Groton City department also works with medication assisted programs to get people with addiction back on their feet. Spellman, his colleagues, and Chief Thomas Davoren are doing a great job protecting a great city.

I was grateful for the opportunity to visit each of these three departments to witness the work the officers and their colleagues are conducting to make their towns safer. I want to thank Officers McKinney, Hannaford, and Spellman, and all of our district’s police for their commitment to community engagement, and everything they do each day to keep our communities and our families safe.

You can sign-up to receive future weekly newsletters in your inbox by clicking here