Officer Natalie Crosby was sitting in her parked cruiser at 3:45 a.m. writing a report on an arrest when a call came over the radio: Thieves had just stolen a black 2001 Mercedes Benz ML 430 and a 2016 Nissan Altima from a home on Russell Street.
Crosby put the report aside and started the engine. She hadn’t had time yet to break for one of the zero-carb zero-sugar Orange Monster drinks she imbibes to help fuel her on the overnight shift. And now it was clear she wouldn’t get that break.
But soon she’d be driving on the heels of one of the thieves, a journey that would keep her plenty charged.
The chase occurred early last Friday in Fair Haven Heights on the east side of town. Crosby was working the overnight 11-7 C shift.
Crosby only recently started working the C shift. She started patrolling the district as a rookie cop a year earlier. She rode with a partner on the 3-11 p.m. B shift most of that time. Then a spot opened on the 11 p.m.-7 a.m. shift, not the most popular assignment. Crosby’s boss informed the rookies that they would need to take three-month tours of duty
Crosby volunteered to go first. Why not? she figured.
She discovered that, as on B shift, the officers bonded, worked together well. But they work more in isolation overnight, driving alone in a car. A sparser crew is on duty. The streets are quieter.
Crosby found herself taking to it.
“I get to investigate incidents at my own pace, which I like,” she said. “Once you can get over the sleep deprivation, it’s the best kept secret in the department.”
Taco Bell’s Closed
The shift early last Friday was proving plenty busy. It began with a call of a verbal domestic dispute in the Annex section. A man was pounding the wall, making threats. Crosby ended up making an arrest for disorderly conduct and criminal mischief.
She was writing up the report on that arrest when she heard the 3:45 a.m. broadcast about the double car theft on Russell Street. The cars’ owner, who had inadvertently left a ring with both keys in one of the doors, heard engines gunning, then saw the cars gone.
Crosby headed not to Russell Street but onto Quinnipiac; she guessed that a fleeing car thief would head toward the highway.
Crosby, who’s 29, knows the area. She grew up in East Haven and her grandmother has lived in New Haven’s Morris Cove for 60 years. .As young as 8 she told her mother she wanted to become a cop when she grew up. (Mom was an RN, dad, a carpenter.) She’d always looked up to cops, she recalled. She was also inspired by her fifth-grade DARE instructor, who led memorable lessons on the consequences of reckless behavior that have continued to resonate with her over the years. She didn’t go right into the profession after graduation from Western Connecticut State; she worked for a while as a bridal consultant at a Ridgefield salon. At 27 she decided she had matured enough to take on her dream job, and landed a spot in the city she’d hoped to patrol. Assigned to the East Shore, she “hit the ground running — she was able to relate to the community, being from out there,” observed her first supervisor, former top neighborhood cop Sgt. Roy Davis.
Crosby’s hunch about last the route of Friday’s car theft proved prescient. She soon saw a dark newer-model Altima pull into the Route 80 Taco Bell, which was closed. She pulled in the lot; she couldn’t see the license plate yet to confirm she had the right vehicle. She didn’t have her siren on. But the driver clearly saw her and accelerated out of the lot onto Foxon Boulevard.
Crosby followed, toward East Haven, then right onto Eastern Street. She caught the plate; it was the right one. She turned on her lights and called the information over the radio so other cops could join the pursuit. And off she and the Altima driver went.
The streets were otherwise quiet, Crosby said. The Altima driver was speeding, but then would stop at an intersection, as if deciding which way to proceed, then start up again. So Crosby was able to keep the car in sight without driving recklessly on the street, which were largely abandoned in the pre-dawn darkness.
From Eastern Street, the thief approached the Bella Vista elderly complex, turned right onto Clifton Street. He slowed toward a stop sign, then swerved right onto Rosewood, a narrow street.
Crosby had been involved in car chases before in her first year on the job, but only on B shift, alongside a partner. The partner was driving then; she was in the passenger seat calling in the license plate, updating the dispatcher on the status of the chase, assessing speeds. Driving solo on C shift, she had to do more multi-tasking.
Now the thief was driving too fast for a narrow street, Crosby observed. He stopped again, made a last-minute decision to swerve right onto an even smaller street, Woodhill Road, and ran into a tree.
Crosby stopped her cruiser about 100 feet away. She opened her door, stepped outside.
“My first reaction was: Are they OK?” she recalled.
She saw the Altima’s passenger door open. A 15-year-old girl with with a headband and high ponytail emerged from the car, followed by a young male. They were both dressed all in black.
“Don’t move!” Crosby called.
They ran, the male in front. Crosby chased after them up Woodhill Road, back onto Rosewood. “I just want to catch one of them,” she thought to herself. “If I catch one, hopefully one of them will talk” and name the other.
The fleeing pair ran in back of a blue raised-ranch house on Rosewood. They reached a fence in the rear.
“Stop. New Haven police!” Crosby called. The girl stopped. The boy kept going.
“I have an apprehension,” Crosby radioed in as she handcuffed the girl. Crosby noticed how young she looked.
“What are you doing?” Crosby asked her.
“I didn’t know the car was stolen,” the girl replied, according to Crosby.
Crosby hadn’t said anything about a stolen car.
As she waited for back-up to arrive, as other cops looked for the other suspects, Crosby walked the handcuffed girl to the police cruiser. She felt for the girl. “By her demeanor, I knew she wasn’t a bad kid, even though she was caught up in this situation now,” Crosby said.
“You’re such a pretty girl! What are you doing in stuff like this?” Crosby asked her.
“I think I’m just getting caught up in the wrong scene,” the girl responded.
The driver side of the Altima was smashed; Crosby worried about the girl’s condition. Even though the girl wasn’t limping and had no visible bruises, Crosby requested an ambulance to transport the girl to the hospital for observation. Just to make sure. She also waited for a tow truck to take the Altima to the police garage on Sherman Parkway.
Meanwhile, her fellow District 9 officers made discoveries of their own.
The police dispatcher notified them that the Mercedes had been located on Flint Street by Cine 1-2-3-4 off Middletown Avenue. Officer Eric Aviles pulled his cruiser up to block the front of the car, which he thought was unoccupied. Officer Ruben Parra pulled his cruiser to the rear.
They saw two heads pop up from inside. Then a boy hopped out the driver side and ran down Flint. Officer Parra followed on foot, losing his balance on the uneven pavement, getting back up after a fall. The boy disappeared down a path cutting through to the Sunset Ridge apartment complex.
Officer Aviles detained a girl who had also been inside the Mercedes.
Meanwhile, Officer Christian Bruckhart, notified about the boy disappearing near Sunset Ridge, combed the area with other cops. No sign of the suspect.
They passed an open Dumpster. Bruckhart had heard of suspects sometimes hiding in Dumpsters; he’d never actually seen it happen. He decided to take a look. “What are the odds?” he figured.
Sure enough, the teen was curled up in the corner of the rank metal container, lying on top of a discarded pillow.
“How does it smell in there?” Bruckhart asked.
“Really bad,” the teen replied. An assessment that was confirmed after he pulled himself out and was arrested.
After the tow truck removed the Altima from the Heights, Crosby drove to Yale Children’s Hospital to check on the arrested teen. Sgt. Pete McKoy was guarding her there; he notified Crosby that the girl was getting an X-ray and CAT scan.
Crosby noticed a familiar face in the lobby: It belonged to a woman she had met two weeks earlier while investigating an assault case. She had met the women (whose relative was the victim) and struck up a rapport.
“It’s you!” the woman exclaimed. Then: “What has she done?”
“She” — the teen Crosby had arrested — was the woman’s daughter. Crosby explained what had happened. The mom was mad at her daughter. She said she didn’t even realize her daughter had left the house.
McKoy gave Crosby permission to join the mom in visiting the daughter in the hospital room. The girl “had her head down. She knew she had messed up,” Crosby said.
Crosby hoped the mom would convince the daughter to name the boy who’d been driving the car. It didn’t work. (“I get it,” Crosby said. “These teens don’t want to be considered a snitch.”
“I hope this is a wake-up call for you,” Crosby told her. Then she asked if the girl was involved in school sports. The girl said she used to run track. Crosby asked why the girl quit. The girl didn’t give Crosby a straight answer
Crosby played volleyball at East Haven High and at Western Connecticut State. She urged the girl to get involved again in sports.
Aside from some bruises, the teen was physically OK. The doctors released her. Crosby drove her to 1 Union Ave., brought her to the third floor to be interviewed by detectives.
Now Crosby’s job with the teen was done. It was already hours past the official end of her shift, but she still had reports to write.
As she left the girl, Crosby thought back to her own life at 15. “I would never be in that situation,” she reflected. “I couldn’t really comprehend how” the teen did.
She also reflected on her first solo car pursuit. It had worked out just fine.
Crosby’s turn on C Squad was supposed to end in a month. She has signed up to keep it going.
“I think,” she said, “I found my niche.”
Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:
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