On May 4, the Norwalk Police Department will turn 115 years old.
As the police chief gave the department’s annual report to city council, the anniversary has been a good time of reflection — both on how police did last year and where the department plans to go next year — and in the next 115 years.
“I don't think it happens a lot. I want to take some time to recognize our officers and the men and women in our department,” Chief Mike Conney told council.
The first 12 minutes of his annual report presentation did just that — praise the men and women in uniform and those “behind the uniform” — dispatchers and others who make up the behind-the-scenes of the NPD.
Conney read several personal letters and emails that were sent to officers, dispatchers and others from himself, supervisors and community members that recognized the “great work” the department is doing. One Norwalk driver who was pulled over for a traffic violation was “so impressed with (Officer Andrew Hemenway’s) professionalism” that he wrote Conney to let him know he would be naming one of his future goats “Andy” in his honor.
Norwalk Safety-Service Director Ellen Heinz also praised the department’s “unwavering passion for Norwalk,” adding that she’s seen it first hand.
Conney said he wasn’t surprised by all the positive feedback, knowing the value of the people behind his department.
“We are a 24/7/365 public service organization with an extremely important mission: to enforce the law and provide quality service to the citizens of Norwalk,” he told council.
“Like all organizations, people are the lifeblood; we are people serving people. We exist to serve the citizens of Norwalk. Not just in the narrow scope of enforcing the law and investigating crime, but also through daily good works that are motivated by genuine care and concern for all we encounter. We place a premium on quality service, and I am extremely proud of the people that work here providing this.”
For those reasons, Conney told council he appreciated the community approving the levy which will facilitate adding a 25th officer to the force. In a survey the department put out to the community in 2019, residents said they would most like to see the department increase the number of officers and to post more of its officers in local schools — two wishes Conney said the department intends to honor.
The department is currently in the process of narrowing down applicants to select its 25th officer. However, Conney said they are “going to move as quickly as possible” in the selection process.
When asked if doing school programs like Safety Town and the D.A.R.E. program are a good use of officers’ time, Conney gave a definitive answer.
“They’re extremely important,” the chief said. “These kids are a part of the community and the future of the community. So is it worth it? It is worth it. At the very least it shows that we care about them.”
Conney added that he would like to increase the two reserve officers the department currently has assisting schools as school resource officers. Detective Sgt. Seth Fry said the department wants to offer more training to the officers it currently has as well throughout 2019.
“Currently 33 percent of our officers have five or less years of experience and 50 percent of our officers have 10 or less years of experience,” Fry wrote in the year-end report.
“As our senior officers reach retirement age, we will need to train our younger officers in areas of instruction to continue the tradition of excellence at the Norwalk Police Department. As the result of the levy passed in the fall of 2018, our training budget has been increased to $19,500 for 2019.”
Councilman Steve Schumm agreed he would list staffing as his “first priority” for the department.
“We can't get behind,” Schumm said, referring to the number of officers in relation to the demands from the city’s crime.
Conney agreed, adding that his only fear is if the department were to become “reactive” instead of “proactive.”
The chief said the vision has only become brighter, especially with newly re-established trust between the NPD and other agencies
“Our focus is ‘Let’s do what’s best for Norwalk and Huron County as a team,’” Conney said.
BREAKOUT BOX 1
This week, the Reflector is publishing a six-part series about the 2018 Norwalk Police Department annual report.
Here is the focus of each part:
Monday - Crime overview
Tuesday - Sex offenses
Wednesday - Drug crimes
Thursday - Traffic law enforcement
Friday - Most dangerous intersections
SATURDAY - Department updates and vision
“Our focus is ‘Let’s do what’s best for Norwalk and Huron County as a team.”
— Norwalk Police Chief Mike Conney