As Willimantic’s new police chief Roberto Rosado sees community policing as a priority and his biggest challenge.
One reason that Rosado, the first Latino to head the police force in the eastern Connecticut city, wants to focus on building and maintaining a good rapport with the public is the media’s recent negative coverage of police. This harsh portrayal, he said, generally “is not the case,” especially in Willamantic.
Rosado was sworn in July 28 to succeeds Chief Lisa Morazo-Bolduc who had been named acting chief in October 2002 and six months later was made permanent chief.
In regard to community policing, the Willimantic department, Rosado said, is already “ahead of the game,” through initiatives such as its citizens academy, which begins its fourth session in September. There also is a history of local involvement such as participation in the Special Olympics Torch Run and the chief’s recent presentation of school supplies to Councilman James Flores’ annual backpack drive.
“We have a good group here,” the chief said of Willimantic’s population. He expressed pride that after the recent murder of five Dallas, Texas police officers, his officers would eat at a local restaurant and find that someone they did not know had paid for their meals. “They (residents) also sent in donations, flowers and food,” he added.
The emphasis on community also suits the new chief’s background. Growing up in Meriden, his career path was significantly influenced by a police officer who was highly visible and respected in his neighborhood and by uncles whose military and firefighting careers embued Rosado with a desire “to try to do right,” he said.
The future Willimantic chief lived in area covered by one of Meriden’s first and best known neighborhood patrol officers, Hector Cardona Sr. Cardona, who retired two years ago after a 31-career with the Meriden police, used his personality and ability to engender trust to connect with the people on his beat, which for a time included some of the toughest parts of the city. In addition, his leadership of the annual Puerto Rican Festival and his award-winning mustache make him one of the city’s most visible public figures.
Cardona said as a youngster Rosado went to school and church with his sons, Hector Jr., who is now a Meriden detective, and Miguel, who is Meriden’s assistant superintendent of schools.
The retired officer also remembers Rosado’s grandmother as someone who would greet him and give him coffee when he made his rounds. “It was old school,” he said.
It was Rosado’s grandmother who suggested police work to her grandson, pointing out how well Cardona, also a native of Puerto Rico, was doing in his career.
Police work is “a thankless job,” Cardona, said, adding that it is a career “for special people, those whose devotion to their job comes from the heart; people like Roberto,” said Cardona.
Rosado also has become a potential role model for Latinos seeking a career in law enforcement. A National Guard veteran, he joined the Meriden department 19 years ago working his way up through the ranks while continuing to pursue a college degree and maintained an active family life with his wife Neida and daughter, who now 17 and an accomplished basketball player.
Rosado’s promotion to chief received recognition at the recent Puerto Rican festival in Meriden and the swearing-in ceremony was attended by family and friends, as well as state Senator Mae Flexer, state Rep. Susan Johnson, Werner Oyanadel, former director of the state Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission and other Latino leaders.
Rosado new heads a 44-person department that includes two women and maintains a SWAT team, a bicycle patrol, K-9 division, a frequently updated website and a detective division which Rosado commanded before becoming chief. The department’s constituency, Willimantic, is a service district within in the Town of Windham, which is patroled by the State Police.
The Willimantic department also has a good relationship with Eastern Connecticut State University, which has 10,000 students, many living off-campus in the community. ECSU has its own police department but there is a mutual aid arrangement with WPD.
Nearly 40 percent of Willimantic’s 18,000 residents and most of its public school students, are of Latino descent. This group is mostly Puerto Rican but the town also has the state’s largest concentration of Mexicans.
Rosado said that having a good grasp of Spanish, or any foreign language, can make a difference in how residents relate to the police. Currently, his department has eight people of Hispanic descent, including two who are Colombian.
“We would love to hire more qualified minority members,” Rosado said, “but we don’t have a lot of minorities taking the entrance test.” Beyond ethnic diversity, he said, he looks for applicants who have college, military and appropriate “life experiences.” As an example, the chief said he appreciates that several members of his department grew up in Willimantic and know “the culture” of the town.
Rosado also is very familiar with the Latino lifestyle. He left Puerto Rico as a toddler and grew up in a Spanish-speaking household. There also was a tradition of public service in his family, with a couple of uncles in the military an one working as a firefighter.
After graduating from Wilcox Tech, Rosado decided to follow in the footsteps of his uncle Sgt. Oscar Rosado and join the National Guard.
After a six years in the Guard, Rosado would go on to earn an associate’s degree do some work in the corrections field before he was hired by the Willimantic Police Department.
Morazo-Bolduc, then a captain, was the person who hired him, Rosado recalled. She eventually became chief, presiding of a department who had to overcome a negative image due to national publicity focused on Meriden as a heroin center and a place where prostitution appeared to flourish.
In retrospective, Rosado said the adverse publicity from the “Heroin Town” portrayal in the media actually helped the town, bringing federal funding and the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Together, the local police force and the FBI sent about 100 people, including several of the big heroin suppliers, to federal prisons and some are still there, Rosado said.
“We pushed a lot of drugs out and dealers are now afraid to come to Willimantic,” he said. “Our goal is to keep this pressure on them.”
Thanks to his predecessor’s long tenure, Willimantic had not needed to go through the process of appointing a police chief in a long time and Rosado said the interviewing and screening process was intense. “They want me to stay awhile,” he said.
In the fall, Rosado will achieve another major milestone in his life. He will finish the requirements for a bachelor’s degree at Eastern Conecticut State University, majoring in sociology and minoring in criminal justice.
It has taken several years for Rosado to gather the needed credits largely because of other demands on his time. These included his work, including assighments with the FBI on major cases, and raising a daughter, who is now 17 and has become an accomplished basketball player.
Rosado hopes to continue his education and has applied to programs that would lead to a master’s degree in public administration
When he has any leisure time, Rosado likes to exercise, play some basketball himself and attend his daughter’s games.
As chief, he technically has weekends off, but the reality he said is that he is ready to answer calls at any time and any day. He also has been known to reply to emails sent to his department late at night.
Rosado misses being a detective, particularly participating in the crime-solving process. He will still occasionally go to incident scenes but says he lets his officers do their work, resisting the urge to micromanage, he said.
He is proud of his department and how crime in Willimantic has fallen. During the 2001-2002 “Heroin Town” era there was a lot of violence related to drug dealing, he said, but it has been over a year since there has been a shooting in Willimantic. “Our officers are doing a real good job,” he said.