On Call: Chief reflects on 35 years in Westport law enforcement
Updated 9:28 am, Friday, March 18, 2016
WESTPORT — Police Chief Dale Call vividly remembers walking the streets of Westport circa 1960 with his father, the late Police Inspector George Call, and being impressed not only with the number of people he greeted on a first-name basis, but also the sense of mutual respect shared by the community and those in his father’s profession.
On April 1, Call will retire as the town’s top law-enforcement official, a position he has held for the last five years, and will be succeeded by Deputy Chief Fotios Koskinas. A Westport native, Call joined the local Police Department in 1981 as a special officer and rose through the ranks, culminating in 2011 when he was promoted to chief. Relatives of Call have held police officer positions since the mid-1930s.
From an early age, Call was drawn to the law-enforcement field. “My earliest memories are hanging out here at the Police Department and I can’t honestly remember a time where I wasn’t involved in one way, shape, form or otherwise with the police department. This is literally where I grew up,” he said.
Although Call became familiar with the profession growing up around the police
station, it was seeing his father’s positive impact on the community and respectful approach to people that made Call want to make it his life’s work, as well.
“It was pretty impressive, when you’re a little kid, that everybody knows your father, they know your father through work,” he said. “A lot of it was watching my dad treating people the right way and it gets reciprocated.
“That part of it was something that always impressed me — treat people right, people will treat you right, it doesn’t matter who they are. … You treat people at face value for who they are as a person,” he added.
A world of change
Looking back, Call has seen the law-enforcement profession change dramatically. The increase in terror attacks on the United States has shifted the job’s focus more than Call could have imagined.
“The world has changed and the demands on police officers today, I think, are different than what they were back in the day — the beat cop walking downtown and not being in the car all the time,” he said.
“We live in a world today where we’re big on, ‘See something, say something.’ People think about the threat of terrorism all the time. Things that people would not think twice about 40 years ago, people think about constantly. I’m amazed at that. Unfortunately, this job reflects a lot of that,” he added.
As the cost of living in Westport has steadily grown, many police officers find themselves priced out of living in more affluent communities like Westport. Call lives in Monroe. As a result, maintaining the same community relations that Call’s father did poses a greater challenge.
“Most of my guys — they don’t come from Westport. They weren’t born here, they weren’t raised here, they live far away from here and it’s the nature of the beast,” the chief said. “You’re not ever going to make enough money to live in the community. So the involvement with the community is different than what it was back then. My dad coached Little League through most of my childhood. He was president of the Little League at one point. Who is going to do that today?”
What keeps him going
Though Westport is no hotbed for serious crimes, Call maintains officers encounter many opportunities to have a positive impact on the community and its residents.
When Call was a relatively new officer, his actions had a lasting impact on someone without his even realizing it until years later. During a rain storm, a woman driving her daughter to Yale-New Haven Hospital for a medical appointment hit a pot hole, causing a flat tire. Call changed the tire for the woman, and “didn’t really think about it until I ran across that person again at, I think it was a D.A.R.E. graduation, many, many years afterward, who still remembered that,” he said.
“I remember being pretty surprised that that literally was 10 minutes out of my day on a rainy afternoon. I didn’t really think a lot about it, but clearly made enough of an impact on somebody that they remembered it and reminded you about it 10, 15 years later,” he said.
All in the family
Call worked alongside his father for four years, and although it was sometimes difficult, said he now will always be grateful for that experience.
“I can tell you that the times where I had to work for him directly, where he was my shift commander, were horrible. Because they’re a lot harder on you than they would be on anybody else,” Call said. “I’m really glad I had that opportunity. A lot of people don’t get that chance.”
Call’s father was looking out for him in more ways than one at the department. When a certain applicant, Suzanne, came in for an interview with Call’s father for the job of assistant animal control warden, the conversation was dominated by Call’s father telling Suzanne about the worthy character of his son.
“Her story was that it seemed like the interview was mostly my dad trying to tell her what a great guy I was and was trying to set the two of us up,” he recalled.
After Suzanne got the job, she had been working several months, when a stray dog was hit and she needed help getting the injured animal out of the road. Call, who was sent to the scene, said he tried to get her to go out for coffee, but she told him that she did not date police officers. Call persisted for the entire month of January 1985, but to no avail.
Eventually, however, Suzanne came around and asked Call out for coffee.
“She saw me at an accident scene and said, ‘Well, do you want to meet me for coffee after work?’ and there it started. Three months later, I proposed to her; a year later we were married and here we are 30 years later,” the chief said.
As a K-9 handler, some of Call’s fondest memories are from the 12-plus years that he worked with police dogs. His first bloodhound, Bisbee, named by Call after a copper mining town in southern Arizona because of the red shade of her coat, worked with Call for four years. Bisbee was a surprise gift from Suzanne, who picked the dog from a breeder in the Midwest.
The bloodhound’s function is to track missing people and criminal suspects, as opposed to German shepherds, which pursue and take down criminals.
Bisbee’s “hard-charging” demeanor meshed well with Call, who describes himself as more “laid back,” creating a balanced working relationship.
“She’s probably the best working bloodhound that I’ve ever handled, and I’ve had a lot of them,” Call said. “I was just amazed at what the dog could do. I’ve never seen a dog work like a bloodhound does. … I always thought there is more of a bond between a bloodhound and a bloodhound handler than I saw in a lot of patrol dogs. It’s just a different bond.”
Call said the first time Bisbee and he tracked down someone together was special. A thief stole a car in another town and the police chase of the suspect led to Sherwood Island State Park. Although about 50 police officers were on the trail, nobody was able to locate the suspect until Bisbee and Call arrived.
“She found the guy up in a tree. … I’m pretty sure I woke my wife up at 3 o’clock in the morning to tell her that we just found this person,” Call said.
Bisbee “was a heck of a worker, she was just a cool dog to watch work. My arm is probably three inches longer from her pulling when we went looking for somebody,” he said.
Call, 53, said his decision to retire was a tough one, but one that, in part, was financially motivated. “The drawbacks to working in a pension plan and starting when you’re real young is you know you’re going to max out on your pension and you’re still going to be really young,” he said.
Starting in April, Call said he plans to do adjunct teaching work for Northwestern University’s Public Safety Center, specifically its School of Police Staff and Command, which Call has completed himself.
In addition to academia, Call said he is open to considering an appointment as chief of another police department, if the opportunity presents itself, “Absolutely, I think a lot of chiefs think that way. I like law enforcement, I like police work, this is what I do,” he said.
Call said that he and Suzanne are also considering the idea of relocating in order to be closer to their children — Emily, a musician in Los Angeles, and Benjamin, a student at the University of Chicago.