MONROE, CT — Since being sworn in as Monroe’s new police chief 23 years ago, John Salvatore worked under five first selectmen. He also oversaw a building project updating and expanding police facilities, as the department progressed with new technology and a higher level of professionalism during his tenure.
Monroe is among the first three towns in the State to volunteer and apply for the Connecticut Police Officers Standards and Training Post Council’s Police Accreditation, a status the town’s department earned and maintained for the last 15 years.
It’s been quite a run, but on Feb. 25 Salvatore will retire.
“It’s time,” he said during an interview in his office Friday. “I’ve been here much longer than most chiefs typically serve. I think it’s time to move on and give others the opportunity to serve.”
“I’m very fortunate. I wouldn’t have been as successful without two outstanding captains,” he added. “For over a dozen years I had Mike Flick and I’ve had Keith White for the last six.”
Salvatore said he also benefited from having Sandy Stochmal as his executive assistant for 18 years. Stochmal is retiring at the end of this month.
“I wish and anticipate that my successor will advance the department even further,” Salvatore said. “We have a good complement of people here. I think the department has done a good job with successor planning.”
First Selectman Ken Kellogg announced Salvatore’s retirement at last week’s Town Council meeting, thanking him for his 23 years of service.
Members of the Police Commission also thanked Salvatore and started to lay the groundwork to find the town’s next police chief. Two of the commissioners, Ed Deak and Ronald Villani, were serving when Salvatore was hired.
Salvatore said he’s been fortunate to have the support of Susan, his wife of nearly 33 years. Now that he’s retiring, the couple intends to travel more, outside the country and within the U.S. They live in Monroe and have three grown children and six grandchildren.
A patrolman in Wethersfield
Salvatore grew up in the Hartford area with his brother Anthony, who also pursued a career in law enforcement before retiring as Cromwell’s police chief. Salvatore also has three sisters.
“I thought I would enjoy that type of service,” Salvatore said of law enforcement, “and for the most part I have.”
Prior to being hired by Monroe in 1998, when Karen Burnaska was first selectman and Linda Suhr served as chair of the Police Commission, Salvatore was a police officer in Wethersfield for over 20 years.
He started out as a patrolman, was promoted to juvenile detective, was a general detective, then a sergeant before being promoted to the rank of lieutenant. He was an administrative lieutenant when he applied for the Monroe chief position.
Since Salvatore had graduated from college to become an officer, he said technology in the profession significantly improved, helping police keep up with criminals.
The use of science also became more advanced, Salvatore said, adding Monroe used DNA to solve burglaries early on. “Our officers can process crime scenes to obtain DNA samples relatively quickly,” he said of their training.
The public perception has of police officers has also changed, according to Salvatore.
Nationally, he said it’s unfortunate how some instances of officers’ misconduct over the past few years seems to have caused a negative public perception of police officers — overshadowing the “millions of contacts police have with citizens that are appropriate and positive.”
“We in Monroe are fortunate,” Salvatore said. “For the most part, our community has supported this police department and generally appreciates the quality of service our officers provide.”
Monroe police have school resource officers and put an emphasis on community policing. Families meet officers informally at the annual Night at the Park, Coffee with a Cop and several town events around officers’ support of Special Olympics Connecticut, such as Tip-A-Cop and the Penguin Plunge.
Providing safety after Sandy Hook
After the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14, 2012, the town of Monroe reopened Chalk Hill to allow classes to be held there, while a new elementary school was built.
“We became the primary public safety unit for their protection,” Salvatore recalled.
The chief said his officers embraced the responsibility, with many volunteering to be permanently assigned to the school and others volunteering to do driveway security.
Salvatore praised Capt. Keith White, who was a lieutenant at the time, for the job he did as liaison between Newtown officials and the police department. “He showed so much dedication to the school, while commanding the Monroe Detective Division at the same time,” Salvatore said.
The chief said there were many attempts by national and international media to get on campus when classes were in session, but Monroe’s officers were able to prevent them from causing any disruptions.
“Our officers endeavored to provide an environment that was as safe and normal as possible for the students and staff,” he said. “I’m proud of the efforts of all of our officers. That went on for about three years. It was probably our biggest challenge during my career here.”
When Salvatore was hired, the entrance to the police station was through two doors in back of Monroe Town Hall. There were inadequate facilities for female officers and the building did not have a sallyport to safely and securely bring in prisoners.
In May of 2012, town officials broke ground on a renovation and 5,200-square-foot addition project. It was 12 years in the making.
“Certainly, it is a much better facility than before the expansion and it is better maintained,” Salvatore said. “I’m appreciative of the town. The building was a big accomplishment.”
Salvatore said the formal entrance facing Church Street gives the public the sense of two separate buildings, even though the police still share the facility with Town Hall.
“We were a cellar operation before,” he said of the old entrance facing the parking lot behind Town Hall.
When he joined the department in 1998, Salvatore said there were 37 full-time police officers and around nine civilian positions. Now there is a total of 55 full-time staff, including sworn officers and civilians.
The number of full-time dispatchers grew from three to seven over the period with less shifts covered by part-time employees. Salvatore said they are certified with training that includes a stronger emphasis on technology.
“I would not be surprised if in the not-so-distant future there’s a need for more space as the town continues to develop,” Salvatore said.
What he’ll miss most
Throughout his career as chief, Salvatore said he most enjoyed seeing officers’ sense of satisfaction after resolving an issue, a problem in town or a case.
Salvatore recalled the atmosphere of the department when he was hired 23 years ago, compared to how it is now.
“This department had been going through turmoil at the time. It was fractured,” Salvatore said of the late ’90s. “I came from a more cohesive environment and I thought that was the way it should be. I think we’re there now, as much as any organization can be. It’s gratifying.”
After retiring, Salvatore said he’ll miss knowing more about the major happenings in town adding, “and of course I’ll miss the people.”