Cops of The Week

by Paul Bass | March 31, 2008 7:53 AM |

DSCN9204.JPGA domestic call threatened to spin out of control. Rookie cops Chris Senior and Ekrem Halim weren’t sure how best to calm everyone down and settle the dispute.

The call came in last Wednesday night. Senior and Halim, who joined the force last year and patrol the Dwight-Kensington-West River area together, arrived at an apartment on Sherman Avenue.

A man was carrying on non-stop. His stepdaughter and was out in the hall with her boyfriend; threats had been made. The wife/ mother was caught in the middle trying to mediate.

Anthony Maio (at left in photo), a 13-year veteran of the police force, came on the scene. He helped Halim (in center of photo) and Senior (at right) take charge, focus the stepfather’s complaints, defuse the conflict without violence or even arrests.

It wasn’t the first time the more experienced cop had made a point of showing the rookies the ropes.

Amid upheaval and uncertainty in the police department, younger cops are looking for informal guidance where they can find it. Top ranks have been shaken up; scandals have devastated the narcotics and detective bureaus. Officers feel besieged weekly by new revelations or accusations against the department.

Partners Senior and Halim (26 and 24, respectively) are finding that guidance from Maio, a fellow officer assigned to the area who has made a point of mentoring them.

“It’s good to be able to bounce information off a veteran officer. He’s experienced a lot of things we haven’t yet,” Senior, who’s 26, said during a group interview upstairs at Cosi on Elm Street.

“These guys are coming on in a very troubled time,” Maio continued. “We’re unsure of our direction. We’re getting a new chief of police. Some of our policies and procedures are in need of revision. A lot of people have come under fire. The morale is questionable. This generation of officer, as smart as some of them are, is confused.”

As a result, said Halim, younger cops have learned to seek out “veteran officers.” Like Maio.

Hugging, & Section 8

DSCN9194.JPGWhen Maio arrived at the Sherman Avenue apartment last week, the man of the house had Senior and Halim struggling to turn down the volume. The man was upset about his teenaged daughter hugging her boyfriend out in the hallway. Stories emerged about the man having a child out of wedlock, about a Section 8 rent dispute, about “a prior threat about the daughter shooting” someone.

Maio interjected. “This is what we need to do here,” he began. He steered the conversation to focus purely on the matter on which the man had called the cops in the first place: the stepdaughter’s relationship with the young man in the hallway.

Soon Maio and Halim and Senior were acting as diplomats, mediators, as much as The Law. The conversation grew calmer.

The boyfriend was told to go on home. The cops then encouraged the stepfather to walk around the block, grab a cup of coffee. No one was arrested. No arguments escalated into violence.

DSCN9201.JPGThe three officers spoke of another joint effort several weeks earlier in which Maio’s guidance made a difference.

Officers in the district were on the lookout for a man who robbed someone at gunpoint two nights earlier, took a cell phone and cash, and punched his victim with a fist.

Their district manager, Lt. Ray Hassett, spotted someone who fit the victim’s description of the suspect: Glasses with ultra-thick lenses, black jacket, jeans, black baseball cap. Hassett put out a radio call, then circled the block until back-up could arrive.

Senior and Halim responded; they were by St. Raphael’s, just a couple of blocks away. Maio was nearby too.

Maio pulled up toward the suspect, who was in his late teens and riding a bicycle. The suspect tried to loop around the corner. Senior and Halim pulled up from behind and stopped him. The pair got out of their car, told the suspect to keep his hands up, and patted him down. They knew he could be armed.

Indeed they found what looked like a gun. (Turned out to be one of those dead-ringer facsimile b.b. guns with a hollowed-out chamber.) They also found marijuana in his pocket.

The suspect was taken to 1 Union Ave., where detectives would pick up the investigation. Meanwhile, Maio huddled with Halim and Senior to outline how to prepare the evidence and their report, to make sure nothing was left out.

“We talked about everything that happened” and went over the steps needed to give the detectives strong material to work with, Maio said.

They put the bicycle and black jacket into evidence in addition to the b.b. gun and marijuana. That night the suspect confessed to having committed the previous robbery and assault.

“We’re new officers. There’s [only] so much you can learn in the academy,” Senior said. “We go out on a call, and [Maio]’s a bundle of knowledge.”

DSCN9193.JPGMaio said he sees his role as “giving these guys confidence. If they don’t know something, they feel comfortable enough to say, ‘Can you help me?’ Anyone who has worked in the New Haven police department at all ranks and levels has had the experience of not knowing what to do” at times, or forgetting.

In addition to specific advice on handling cases, Maio offers the younger officers the occasional aphorism. Last week’s was: “Don’t trade your integrity for access. Your integrity is your biggest thing.”

Maio was asked what he meant by “access.”

Trying, he said, “to fit in to the department.”

(To read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series, click here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

(To suggest an officer to be featured, click here.)

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