Cop Of The Week

by Paul Bass | July 8, 2008 1:23 PM | | Comments (4)

DSCN0335.JPGWhalley’s new top cop — the third so far this year — knows the turf: He was chasing crooks on the avenue before he even thought of wearing a badge.

Lt. Sydney Collier was managing the night shift almost 20 years ago at the Walgreen’s at Whalley and the Boulevard to pay his way through Southern, where he was earning an accounting degree.

It was the 1990s, the dawn of community policing in New Haven. Three cops who worked extra-duty shifts at Walgreen’s suggested Collier take the exam to join the police force. “They used to watch me chase people out the door all the time,” Collier recalled. “[Customers] used to rob us blind. They said, ‘We see the way you handle conflict.”

Collier took the exam, passed, and began what has recently become a swift ascent in the department. The stocky, sunny 41-year-old motorcycle aficionado and self-described “people person” was still moving his stuff into the Whalley-Edgewood-Beaver Hill (WEB) substation Monday, just six months after he had taken over the department’s Family Services Division. He had assumed that prior post just 13 months after being put in charge of the firearms units.

A combination of scandals and early retirements have thinned out the police department’s high-level ranks in recent years. Officials are trying to promote cops fast and develop a new generation of leaders. The experience gap has created an opportunity for Collier, who likes new challenges and likes to learn.

“I suspect there’s going to be a whole lot of” transition continuing, Collier predicted. “You’ve got a new chief coming in. You’ve got a restructuring. Everyone’s got to be prepared to put on a different hat.”

Collier jumps at the chance to try new hats. “That’s what keeps the job interesting,” offering him “a wealth of experience,” he said. “You’ve got to be open to change. The opportunities are here. You’ve jut got to put yourself in the game.”

DSCN0328.JPGHe’s diving into a contentious game on Whalley. That district has perhaps the most active, certainly the most fired-up, neighborhood management team. They put demands on the cops, protest when necessary, even take up arms.

Collier almost had no new office to move into. The city planned to shut down the substation July 1 until neighbors rallied to save it.

Collier said he welcomes the community pressure.

“Listen. I’ll tell you right now. Community participation is key. We can’t do this without the community,” he said. “There are only so many of us. We see only so much. The community sees a lot more.”

He spoke of a police management seminar he attended last month at Harvard’s JFK school which stressed the need to show people your commitment off the bat. “My initial goal is to meet with people. I’m in the listening phase,” he said. “Once people realize I care about this district, I still live in the city, I’m a product of New Haven, I think we’ll make some good progress.” Collier was born on Elliott Street in the Hill. He and his wife live on Morris Cove.

WEB neighbors have been pushing for more bike cops and walking beats. Collier endorsed that goal in an interview Monday. He said he’d like to put a second cycling patrol to join the one cop already on the 4 p.m.-midnight shift. He also said his own experience on the Winchester Avenue beat convinced him that “walking patrols work,” as the most effective way to get to know a district.

He still knows people he met on that walking beat even though he left it 14 years ago, Collier said. He moved from that beat to a “short stint in narcotics,” then a couple of years as a motorcycle-riding traffic cop. He worked on major investigations when he made detective — but spend less than four months in that rank, because he almost immediately passed the sergeant’s exam. In that role he joined, then ran, the narcotics unit.

He left the unit — replaced by Lt. Billy White — to return to patrol. Then, in December of 2007, he took over the firearms unit with the mission of expanding it to address gun violence in the city. He had the unit canvas and leaflet neighborhoods to try to convince people to come forward more readily with information about shootings.

In his brief six months running Family Services this year, Collier oversaw the handling of rape and domestic violence cases. Beyond beginning to reinstitute the Board of Young Adult Police Commissioners, he didn’t make many changes. He barely had time to learn the ropes before his July 1 reassignment to WEB. He did have yet another area of expertise in his arsenal.

DSCN0290.JPGWEB neighbors have been frustrated by the revolving door at their substation. Neighbors were fond of Sgt. Steve Shea, who was reassigned from his post as district manager in January. They were building a good relationship with Shea’s successor, Lt. Kevin Costin. Then, after fewer than six months, Costin retired.

Collier said he has every intention of sticking around — not just on Whalley, but in the department.

“Nah! I’m not retiring. What would I do? I’ll be out here as long as they need me.

“I love my cops. We have a lot of talent in this department. We’ve taken some hits. [Officers are] a little beaten up right now. But we’ve going to turn the corner.

“And I want to be part of that turnaround.”

(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, here, here, and here.

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

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Posted by: Lupe Donnelly | July 8, 2008 11:48 PM

LT. Collier is one of a kind. I wish him the best in his new rank. He truly deserves it.

Posted by: KAMB | July 9, 2008 9:06 AM

Lt Collieris a great guy, congrats and good luck!

Posted by: Holligan | July 9, 2008 9:40 AM

I was reading this article in complete amazment. I Know Sydney well, although I haven't see him a while. Sid is a great guy, very smart, and very down to Earth.

He should be in charge of investiagtive services in my humble opinion, I think his leadership skills are unmatched, and he is well respected. I just wonder who is making these moves?

Sid I wish you the best and I will find time to stop by.

Posted by: patrick v gore | July 10, 2008 5:12 PM

excellent person as well as an great police officer good choice

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