Police department restructured; K-9 team wins at Olympics

By Martha Marteney - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Thu., Jul. 28, 2011
Contributed
South Windsor K-9 team officer Christina Mazzoccoli and her dog, Bobby, won the obedience event at the 2011 K-9, held in Storrs on July 23. Photo courtesy of the South Windsor Police Department. - Contributed Photo

“I’ve always wanted to be a police officer,” said newly-promoted South Windsor Deputy Police Chief Richard Riggs. “I’ve always enjoyed coming to work.” Riggs joined the South Windsor Police Department in 1979 and served in patrol for some 20 of his 32 years with the SWPD. “I really like the town of South Windsor,” said Riggs, thanking the town and citizens for giving him their public trust.

Riggs grew up in East Hartford and lived in South Windsor for nearly 20 years, raising his daughters Ashley, 26, and Whitney, 22. He now lives with his wife, Amy, in Broad Brook. They are excited about welcoming Penelope into their home, a recently-adopted Chihuahua from Missouri. It is the first dog either have had since childhood.

Riggs’ promotion is related to the retirement of Captain Thomas C. Hart, who served as the department’s second-in-command. Although the rank of Deputy Chief has not been used in the department since 1987, the position of second-in-command is not new. According to Police Chief Matthew Reed, it was decided to use the rank of Deputy Chief to clarify Riggs’ role in the department. “It better reflects his role as the number two person in the department,” said Reed. With approximately 19,000 police departments in the United States and no standard terminology for the ranking system, Reed discussed the change with Town Manager Matthew Galligan before creating the new rank.

Having a second-in-command provides a confidant for Reed, as well as accomplishing an important need of fulfilling the “two-man rule,” or having two key individuals with full knowledge of the department’s operations. With his new administrative role, Riggs is no longer a member of the union. Hart formerly served in the capacity as “confidant.”

The overall structure of the SWPD has three lieutenants reporting directly to the office of the Chief of Police. Newly-promoted Lt. Richard Watrous will oversee the patrol operations; Lt. Richard Bond will continue in his role coordinating the multi-faceted Special Services unit; and Lt. Timothy Edwards will continue to handle the daily operations of Support Services, a role previously performed by Hart.

Without previously having a dedicated second-in-command, Reed has taken on a wide variety of administrative roles, such as working with technology and social media, budgeting and policy oversight. He will now be able to assign tasks to the Deputy Chief, either based on Riggs’ background or as a way for Riggs to further expand his knowledge of agency operations.

Although Riggs clearly enjoyed his time in patrol, he is not unfamiliar with many aspects of his new post. In his role as Administrative Sergeant and Aide to the Chief, he revised department policies, codifying the documents to the state accreditation format. “That’s where I learned about the other aspects of the department,” said Riggs. “I look forward to the challenge,” he said about his new position. Reed indicated that in addition to learning more in depth about department operations such as budgeting and policy, Riggs will focus on statewide accreditation of the department. He will also continue to support Reed's commitment to providing transparency to the department, the importance of which he first learned in the position of public information officer.

Both Reed and Riggs are free with their praise of the department members. “We really do have a good department here,” said Riggs. After 32 years with the SWPD, Riggs serves as a valued resource, not only for his experience but for his memory retention as well. He is frequently asked about details of past events and cases. As field training officer, he personally trained more than 20 officers and then oversaw the cadre of field training officers.

Part of the reason for the restructuring of the department was to reduce overhead costs and, in particular, overtime expenses. Reed noted that the function of uniformed patrol is the backbone of the department, but the officers are encouraged to rotate through other positions to gain the necessary background understanding behind department policies and actions. Most non-patrol positions are rotated within a five-year period. By keeping more officers in the patrol rotation, the department has been able to get overtime costs under control. The department currently operates with 41 officers, down from the full allocation of 43 officers. It is Reeds’ intention to hire an entry level officer later in the year to fill the vacancy of Hart’s retirement.

Additionally, by rotating officers through the various positions, Reed feels he is fulfilling his responsibly to maintain stability in the department and to prepare for a continuous system of command in the future. He values providing the officers with special training, opportunities to participate in management and working in different positions. It helps the department, and it helps morale.

In another effort to better utilize the department’s resources, Reed announced that the office of Timothy Edwards Middle School Resource Officer Caleb Lopez will be moved to the police station, where he will take on many functions of Youth Services. “Right now, we need him back here doing some regular police work,” said Reed. “We don’t have any extra people.” Sergeant Elsie Diaz has been responsible for both Youth and Victims Services, and will continue to supervise Youth Services as well as fulfill the needs of Victim Services.

In other police news, on Saturday, July 23, officer Christina Mazzoccoli and her dog, Bobby, competed in the K-9 Olympics, held at the University of Connecticut campus in Storrs. Following their 2010 win as Best Criminal Apprehension, the South Windsor K-9 team was awarded the 2011 award as Top Team for Obedience. “Every day I train obedience with my dog,” said Mazzoccoli. “Obviously it paid.”

Bobby is a 75-pound Slovakian German Shepherd. “He’s the perfect size for me,” said Mazzoccoli. He is narcotic certified, which enables Mazzoccoli to search vehicles with the K-9. Typical tasks might also include searching homes or buildings for suspected burglars, search and rescue operations, and evidence recovery. “They’re so versatile,” said Mazzoccoli. “They’re great tools to have in the department," she said of the canine officers.

“I can’t wait to participate next year,” said Mazzoccoli about the K-9 Olympics, which is a charity fundraiser for the Connecticut Child Identification Program, the Shriners Hospitals for Children and the Hometown Foundation in support of the Special Olympics. She is planning on focusing on the obstacle event next year.


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