Educating Private Ryan

Racing to the scene of a teenagers’ brawl, new city cop Ryan Kajtor kept a piece of advice in mind: Don’t act like a robot.

Kajtor picked up that advice from a seasoned officer named Carlos Conceicao.

Like the 39 other eager new cops in uniform who recently hit the streets, Kajtor was paired with a mentor—a “field training officer” (aka “FTO”)—for a final round of on-the-job training after completing the academy in December. Conceicao, a much-lauded Dwight-Kensington beat cop (a two-time “Cop of the Week”), has served as Kajtor’s FTO the past two weeks. They patrol together from 3 to 11 p.m. Conceicao, who has served as FTO for four New Haven rookies, has imparted his advice to Kajtor both in words and by example.

Advice like: Talk to people like a fellow human being, not a “robot.” Relax. Look them in the eye. Calm people down; don’t escalate tensions. “Speak to people,” Conceicao said, “like you speak to your family. I talk to people like I want people to talk to my grandmother. I want people to be nice to her.” That approach, counseled Conceicao, pays off in the trust you earn over time. People feel more comfortable giving you information. It’s easier to defuse potentially dangerous encounters.

Kajtor got to see that payoff—and to put the advice into practice—when the brawl broke out on Day Street Thursday afternoon.

A Familiar Face

Conceicao and Kajtor, a 23-year-old West Haven native who studied criminal justice at University of New Haven, were standing outside the Edgewood Avenue police substation an hour into their shift when a neighborhood character rushed up to them.

“Carlos! Carlos! They’re fighting!” the man reported, pointing down the block on Day Street. Conceicao has struck up conversations with the man in the past while patrolling the neighborhood and responding to complaints.

Kajtor tore down the block toward a cacophony of screams from a gaggle of teenage girls in front of the Antillean Manor housing complex. Conceicao followed, calling for back-up. Across the street, behind a fence, Amistad Academy students played lacrosse without interruption.

Two groups of girls were lunging at each other on the sidewalk. Kajtor, then Conceicao as well, got in the middle, kept them separate, urged them to calm down and tell them their stories. (Click on the video at the top of the story to watch some of the episode.)

Between the two groups key strands of evidence lay on the sidewalk: pried hair extensions.

“They jumped us!” one group shouted. The girls on the other side of the officer-divider said the same.

Chantel Banks, a woman twice their age and the cousin of one of the participants, stepped forward to explain to Conceicao.

“They’re arguing on Facebook,” she told him, “over a boy...”

Conceicao recognized the woman.

“We spoke last week,” he told her.

“Yeah!” she responded. She lowered her voice, kept talking. She ended up helping to keep the two sides apart. She turned to one of the girls still yelling at a combatant down the block. “You’re going to go jail” if it continues, Banks counseled her. “You’re too little, baby. You’re too little.”

When Conceicao was out of earshot, Banks spoke of how he “keeps everything under control. He’s peaceful.”

“We all know him. He’s real nice to everybody,” she said, adding: “He’s cute.”

Kajtor proceeded to get the story straight from the girls on one side of the divide. He and Conceicao had immediately positioned themselves with a different side of the dispute, without discussing it first. Kajtor had learned to do that at the police academy. Now he put to use the Conceicao admonitions, to relax his physical stance, to keep his voice calm, to listen openly to the girls’ account.

“See them?” one of the girls said, pointing to one of her adversaries down the block. “They still talkin’!”

Conceicao simultaneously took information from the other girls as a friend memorialized the scene on smart phone video. (The alleged assailant told the friend not to record the part where she gave Conceicao her name and person information.) The two groups of girls come from different neighborhoods. While they disagreed about who hit whom first, they confirmed Banks’ account of the Facebook-spawned boy dispute.

The officers decided not to make an arrest. “They’re young,” Conceicao said. “You don’t want to give them a record. They stopped fighting we got here.” And no one got hurt, beyond temporarily losing a few hair extensions.

Kajtor borrowed one of the girls’ cell phones to call her mother to retrieve her daughter. Conceicao called the mother of a main combatant on the other side. One mom agreed to come to the scene. Another mother suggested the officers lock her daughter up; the officers instead drove the girls home.

Lesson 2: Little Problems Lead To Big Problems

Kajtor took away some more lessons the previous Friday afternoon when he and Conceicao stopped two men in a black Nissan Altima parked in front of an empty lot by the intersection of Gilbert and Greenwood.

Conceicao was behind the wheel. He and Kajtor noticed the two men were drinking beer. They noticed the engine was running. Familiar with the block, Conceicao noticed the Altima was sitting in front of a residential parking zone sign.

As they passed the car, Conceicao noticed the car didn’t have a residential parking sticker. It didn’t belong there.

The officers also noticed the two men quickly lower their beer bottles. They saw the driver reach toward the car’s interior center console, Conceicao said.

He drove past, made a U-turn, headed back, calling in the license plate. The car was registered in Bridgeport.

As Conceicao pulled the cruiser behind the Altima, the Altima’s rear brake lights went on, signalling the man was preparing to drive away. Conceicao popped the siren to signal him to stay put.

After calling for back-up, the officers got out of the cruiser, approached the Altima. Kajtor spoke with the passenger. He asked for his license. “As he went for his license, his hand was shaking” and he avoided eye contact, Kajtor said. Conceicao spoke with the driver, who he said offered just an “uhh” and a blank stare when Conceciao asked what he was doing in New Haven. Six Heineken bottles out of 12 in the car were empty; other empty beer bottles littered the back.

They asked the men to exit the car. They asked if they had weapons. The driver said yes—and a pat-down revealed four utility knives, one of them concealed by his foot. (The man said he used them at work opening boxes in a warehouse.)

A search of the car revealed a prize—a Colt .38 detective special edition revolver. Stashed in that center console. With four rounds in it. The officers charged the 31-year-old driver with having a pistol without a permit, among other offenses. And they confiscated the gun.

The episode underscored to Kajtor the importance of learning your turf and paying attention to scenes that look out of place.

“I learned that there’s no such thing as a routine traffic stop,” he said. “You go up to a vehicle, you have to expect anything.

“It started out as something small, insignificant to some people. It ended up something big. We got a gun off the street. That’s proactive policing at its best.”

“My first gun,” Kajtor said with pride.

Conceicao asked how many gun arrests he’d made in his five years on the force. “Nineteen,” he said. “It’s the only one I keep exact stats on. Any cop who tells you he doesn’t is lying.”

Why keep count?

“You get a gun with four rounds in it—four people could have got shot. It could have been a baby. Or a police officer,” he responded.

“Carlos just sees everything,” Kajtor remarked. “I can’t wait until I develop that sixth sense.”

Conceicao will soon leave Dwight-Kensington to learn new turf. His new assignment won’t include field-training New Haven rookies; he’ll be assigned to the statewide narcotics task force, pursuing cases both in New Haven and in surrounding communities.

The plan is to have Kajtor, meanwhile, start developing that sixth sense after completing his tour with Conceicao, patrolling on his own in the downtown district. Where people will encounter an enthusiastic 23-year-old law enforcement officer learning the beat. Not a robot.

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 and Josh Kyle
David Coppola
Roy Davis
Joe Dease
Milton DeJesus
Brian Donnelly
Anthony Duff
Robert DuPont
Jeremie Elliott and Scott Shumway
Jose Escobar Sr.
Bertram Ettienne
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
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)
John Velleca
Manuella Vensel
Holly Wasilewski
Holly Wasilewski (2)
Alan Wenk
Stephanija VanWilgen
Matt Williams
Michael Wuchek
Michael Wuchek (2)
David Zannelli
David Zaweski

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posted by: HewNaven on April 5, 2013  9:03pm

While I applaud the officers handling of this situation, and I am comforted to see new cops as good as Kajtor, there are some deeper, more fundamental issues we’re all facing. The people involved, like all of us, need a mindfulness-based practice to deal with everyday stress and anger. Cops can always respond to our problems, and like I said, these guys did a great job, but what we really need are programs throughout the city to help people deal with daily stress and anger in a meaningful, lasting way. Perhaps, it should be part of the education curriculum?

Its great that there are private businesses that offer such services, but most people cannot afford them. And, in a capitalist paradigm, its not the responsibility of private businesses to reach those who cannot pay. As a community, we need to seriously consider subsidizing programs like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and begin offering them to the poor, like these folks on Day Street. I hope this particular situation is put to rest, but I’m certain we’re all going to face similar conflict in our daily lives, and we need to be prepared to deal with such things.

posted by: parejkoj on April 6, 2013  9:01am

Sounds like good advice.

Best of luck to you both!