2 Female Cops Break The Brass Ceiling
by Paul Bass | Dec 3, 2013 5:19 pm
Posted to: Cop of the Week
A 5-year-old girl in Fair Haven called 911 to report that her father was drunk and abusive. She would make more such calls in years to come—and get to know and admire New Haven’s cops.
Twenty-six years later, that girl has grown into one of the city’s fastest-rising cops herself, one of two who will make history this week. On the job she has found herself talking to a new generation of children with abusive fathers.
That cop is Betsy Segui. She is one of eight officers being promoted to the rank of sergeant Friday. She will become the first female Hispanic sergeant in the department’s history.
Segui’s rise continues against a backdrop of legal trouble for her family: Her brother and father went to federal jail for setting Fair Haven buildings on fire, allegedly at the behest of a neighborhood developer with whose family Segui grew up.
“I think I’m paving the way,” Segui said. Paving the way a career in law enforcement for girls who grow up in New Haven. Including girls from families with legal troubles.
“I can do it. They can do it, too,” she said.
Manmeet Bhagtana Colon is breaking a glass—or, in the case of police shields, brass—ceiling as well on Friday. She will become the department’s first Indian-American female sergeant. (Click here for a previous “Cop of the Week” story detailing her path to the force beginning with a childhood in Mumbai and then Queens, N.Y.) Four of the eight cops being promoted to sergeant are female; one of 12 cops being promoted to lieutenant Friday, Racheal Cain, is female. (The city does have other high-ranking female officers, including Assistant Chief Denise Blanchard.)
Both Segui and Colon joined the force just five years ago. Working the entertainment district detail earlier in their careers, they learned that drunken bar patrons will test female cops more than male cops. They learned to ignore taunts consisting of unpleasant names for female body parts. (Colon “didn’t even know some of those words existed.”) They learned they would be criticized as too “aggressive” or unfriendly if they failed to smile at trouble-makers in between breaking up fights.
They also learned that they can do the job. Both officers have risen fast through the ranks, impressing supervisors with a combination of grit and compassion.
“They’re both in my opinion two future stars in the police department,” said Assistant Police Chief Luiz Casanova.
Both Segui and Colon earned their detective badges this past March. They have both been working in the Special Victims Unit, which investigates reports of sexual assault, family violence and crimes against the elderly.
Their ability to establish rapport with victims, especially girls and women, has helped the department solve a number of sexual abuse cases already, according to major crimes chief Sgt. Al Vazquez.
Segui has also provided essential Spanish translation in important cases, including a key early interview with the Spanish-speaking family of a Hillhouse student shot in September on his way to school, Vazquez said.
Segui, who’s 31, is the single mother of a 10-year-old girl. Colon, 28, is married to New Haven Officer Pedro Colon; they have a daughter about to turn 2.
“Most of the victims you have [who report being abused] are female. [Segui and Colon] are both mothers. They have that motherly aspect” that helps them connect, Vazquez observed. They also have a “tenacity” and “work ethic” that guides them on investigations, he said.
Segui (pictured at right in photo, being sworn in as a detective earlier this year) knows what it’s like to grow up in a home where a father abuses the children. She was one of seven children in her Fair Haven household. Those experiences helped “make me what I am today,” she said.
“The NHPD has been in my life and my family’s life” since her early childhood, she noted.
In kindergarten at Christopher Columbus School, Segui learned to dial 911 in the event of trouble at home, which was a common occurrence. So she dialed 911. Regularly.
She still remembers getting to know city cops like Brian Morris and Steven Coppola (now retired) and Brian Donnelly (now a Yale sergeant).
At the scene, they would make a point of checking in how she was coping. “They set me aside. They spoke to me. They valued me as a person.”
By 7 or 8 years old, Segui decided she wanted to become a New Haven cop. She got to know officers who showed up at her school, too.
When that dream came true, Segui found that her fellow officers were still spending time with her father, and her brother. They were implicated in an arson-for-profit investigation in Fair Haven. They ended up cooperating with police and telling of how they followed alleged orders to set a Lombard Street laundromat and other properties on fire.
Segui said she didn’t let that notoriety get in her way of doing her job.
“Unfortunately we [can] all get judged by the same cloth. [But] I have power over myself,” she said.
“We can’t pick our family That’s my father. That’s my brother. I love them to death. They did what they did. I do what I do.”
Both Segui and Colon end up talking to plenty of other people who would say the same thing. Both cops were promoted to detective this past March. Both were assigned to the Special Victims Unit, which handles sexual assault and child abuse investigations.
They seek to find common ground with the young victims they interview.
That doesn’t have to mean bonding over experiencing violence. In one recent interview, Segui and a young girl bonded over volleyball.
Segui was interviewing a girl who had come forward after several years of allegedly experiencing abuse at home. As usual, Segui didn’t start out by asking her about the painful experience. She started out asking about school. She asked if the girl plays sports.
The girl said she plays volleyball. It turns out Segui played volleyball, too, as a student at Wilbur Cross High School. They talked about that.
They talked about the girl’s future plans. The girl has her sights set on becoming a veterinarian. It turns out Segui’s daughter has the same dream. Segui and the girl talked about that, too.
Eventually the girl was comfortable enough to give a detailed account of her traumatic experiences at home. An ultimately successful investigation was on its way.
“When you start talking personally, they open up,” Segui said.
Colon (pictured this summer guiding a 6-year-old girl onto a scale as part of registering children for an Amber Alert database) found herself talking football recently with a boy suspected of being both a victim and a perpetrator of sexual abuse. (That happens more than some people realize, she said.) The boy said he plays football at school. Then he started pouring out data about the sport. “He was like a commentator,” Colon recalled. “He gave me stats for college football teams.” She asked him if he had ever heard of “sports management.” He hadn’t. They talked about that career path.
Then they talked about the sexual abuse.
Segui and Colon stressed that they know male cops who can be sensitive and firm investigators in such cases, just as women can be. They also agreed with Sgt. Vazquez that perhaps they do bring a set of experiences and approaches as women that can help them do a better job, especially with female victims.
Second-guessing themselves can help, too. Colon spoke of going home and replaying the recordings of interviews she had completed hours earlier in the day at the Family Victims Unit. She can be her own toughest critic, she said.
She spoke of one of her first interviews after joining the unit this year. Listening to the recording, she noticed that the suspected abuser she interviewed, while repeatedly denying the accusation, had started to offer details of incidents, only to have Colon switch to a new question. She realized that she should have let him keep going; whether or not he confessed, he may provide details that either lead to the truth or contradict previous versions of his story. She made sure not to repeat the mistake at the next interview.
That’s not necessarily a purely female trait. But some might say that women often bring that capacity for honest self-appraisal, rather than self-promotion, to a job. For a new generation of female leaders on the New Haven force, that can only help them leave their mark.
Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:
• Shafiq Abdussabur
• Craig Alston & Billy White Jr.
• James Baker
• Lloyd Barrett
• Manmeet Bhagtana (Colon)
• Paul Bicki
• Paul Bicki (2)
• Sheree Biros
• Scott Branfuhr
• Dennis Burgh
• Anthony Campbell
• Rob Clark & Joe Roberts
• Sydney Collier
• Carlos Conceicao
• Carlos Conceicao (2)
• Carlos Conceicao and Josh Kyle
• David Coppola
• Roy Davis
• Joe Dease
• Milton DeJesus
• Milton DeJesus (2)
• Brian Donnelly
• Anthony Duff
• Robert DuPont
• Jeremie Elliott and Scott Shumway
• Jose Escobar Sr.
• Bertram Ettienne
• Bertram Ettienne (2)
• Martin Feliciano & Lou DeCrescenzo
• Paul Finch
• Jeffrey Fletcher
• Renee Forte
• Marco Francia
• William Gargone
• William Gargone & Mike Torre
• Derek Gartner
• Derek Gartner & Ryan Macuirzynski
• Jon Haddad & Daniela Rodriguez
• Dan Hartnett
• Ray Hassett
• Robert Hayden
• Robin Higgins
• Ronnell Higgins
• William Hurley & Eddie Morrone
• Racheal Inconiglios
• Juan Ingles
• Paul Kenney
• Hilda Kilpatrick
• Herb Johnson
• John Kaczor & Alex Morgillo
• Jillian Knox
• Peter Krause
• Peter Krause (2)
• Amanda Leyda
• Rob Levy
• Anthony Maio
• Dana Martin
• Steve McMorris
• Juan Monzon
• Chris Perrone
• Ron Perry
• Joe Pettola
• Diego Quintero and Elvin Rivera
• Ryan Przybylski
• Stephanie Redding
• Tony Reyes
• David Rivera
• Luis & David Rivera
• Luis Rivera (2)
• Salvador Rodriguez
• Salvador Rodriguez (2)
• Brett Runlett
• David Runlett
• Allen Smith
• Marcus Tavares
• Martin Tchakirides
• David Totino
• Stephan Torquati
• Gene Trotman Jr.
• Kelly Turner
• Lars Vallin (& Xander)
• Dave Vega & Rafael Ramirez
• Earl Reed
• John Velleca
• Manuella Vensel
• Holly Wasilewski
• Holly Wasilewski (2)
• Alan Wenk
• Stephanija VanWilgen
• Elizabeth White & Allyn Wright
• Matt Williams
• Michael Wuchek
• Michael Wuchek (2)
• David Zannelli
• David Zaweski