On Call: Q&A with Westport's new police chief
Updated 12:15 pm, Friday, October 7, 2011
Dale E. Call, a 27-year veteran of Westport's police force, will be sworn in today as chief, the eighth person to hold the rank as the town's top law-enforcement official.
A deputy chief since 2007, Call fills the void created by the retirement last month of Alfred Fiore.
His promotion, along with Capt. Foti Koskinas' promotion to deputy chief, marks the first time in the Police Department's history that two former K-9 handlers have held the top two jobs.
Call grew up in Westport, but moved after marrying. He met his wife Suzanne when she was a part-time Westport dog warden. They are the parents of two children.
Call's swearing-in ceremony is set for 3:15 p.m. Friday in the Town Hall auditorium.
The Westport News interviewed Call on Wednesday morning in his headquarters office, the day after his appointment was announced by First Selectman Gordon Joseloff.
Q: Congratulations on your promotion to police chief. Have you already started thinking about goals, short-term and long-term?
A: We need to move away from a one-way communication mentality to a more interactive approach in the future. We need to be a bigger part of the community. Back in the day police officers grew up here, went to school here, lived here. Clearly those days are not coming back, so we need to find other ways to be part of the community we serve, whether it be coaching athletic teams or working with local organizations. That goes back to a pretty basic concept that says the police are the people and the people are the police. We work best as part of the larger community.
Q: Take us back to the beginning. What attracted you to police work?
A: I grew up here (at the department). My dad worked here (his late father, George, reached the rank of inspector). He started here in '59. The first thing I remember was the Westport Police Department. My best memories were being out with my father at Routes 1 and 33 as he worked commuter traffic ... I knew pretty early on that this was what I wanted to do with my life. My father grew up in town and everybody knew him. It goes back to that sense of community that we need to try to get back to.
Q: You've held many different positions within the department, including, but not limited to, motor vehicle crash investigator, field training officer, canine handler and supervisor. You also founded the department's honor guard. What was most enjoyable to you and why?
A: Probably being a patrol sergeant. I think I had the greatest shift of guys that anybody's ever had ... a group of people that were motivated to go out there and get the job done. Also, you had the responsibility for the group that worked for you but you could still go out and do police work yourself. It was the best of both worlds.
Q: What were some of the more memorable cases you worked on?
A: The most memorable thing I've had was probably not the biggest anybody would think of. When I was brand new, out of the academy, I had to check on a report of many cars with flat tires due to a pothole on Easton Road. I remember helping a woman who was en route to Yale-New Haven Hospital with her daughter, which was probably not a big deal until I ran across her years later and she remembered the fact that I took the time to go out in the rain and change her tire for her. That makes me realize that what seems like such a small thing to us can have a big impact on someone else. It reminds you of why you do the job.
Q: How has law enforcement changed since you entered the field?
A: There's a different mindset today. There's a lot more education that goes into it. I was in the police academy for three months, but now it's five months. In 1959, it was three weeks, with a lot of on-the-job training. There's a lot more we need to keep an eye out for. In the 1980s, we didn't think about terrorism at all. Now it's at the forefront of nearly everything we do, especially given the fact we're less than an hour from New York City.
Q: What are some of the challenges the department (of 65 uniformed officers) is currently facing?
A: Clearly financial challenges, without question, and that is something that we know going forward the next four of five years, is not going to go away. So the biggest challenge is how do we move forward and do the job we know we need to do in as responsible a manner financially as we can. Everyone's in the same boat financially and everyone's facing the same challenges.
Q: What is your favorite part of the job?
A: Let's start out by saying my contact with different people. Because a very large part of my job over the past four years has involved railroad parking, I would have to say that recently this has been one of my favorite aspects of the job. It probably seems strange but this particular job is very challenging since supply and demand really does change on a daily basis. It's very customer-service oriented and brings me into contact with a lot of interesting people who have a lot of interesting ideas and thoughts, some of which work, some of which don't, but I think they have the best interests of the community at heart one way or another.
These are only people that are trying to get to work every day. We try a lot of different things and some fail spectacularly, but we move on and keep looking. Although a lot of the phone calls I get are usually from frustrated and unhappy customers, I hope that by the end of the conversation they have a better understanding of the challenges that exist. We may not have any easy solutions but they know that we understand their concerns and that we are working to make things better.
Q: What do you think makes the Westport Police Department unique among other departments you are familiar with?
A: Difficult question to answer because we are surrounded by some very fine police departments with whom we have always enjoyed close working relationships with. It would be very difficult to get the job done without the help and resources of our neighboring departments. I will say that I believe our people help to make us unique. We have officers who work here from many different backgrounds, from recent college graduates to combat veterans to retired Army officers, who all bring their own unique perspectives on police work. I think that this helps to keep us from becoming one-dimensional. The more diverse the background and the more varied the life experiences, the more complete and better the decision-making process becomes.