July 1, 2006
By TINA A. BROWN AND DANIEL GOREN, Courant Staff Writers
Hartford's new police chief says he took the job after coming to believe he wouldn't be alone in the spotlight.
Daryl K. Roberts said after the announcement Friday that he could not be an effective chief without cooperation from key sectors of the city: the public, the police department, city government and the board of education.
"I'll be the chief of the entire city," Roberts said. "It won't be about me, it will be about us. It's real important for me to be humble. I don't work by myself."
The Hartford native, who was a lieutenant two years ago, will be Hartford's sixth police chief since 1999. When Chief Patrick J. Harnett leaves July 13, Roberts will be responsible for nearly 500 police department employees and an estimated $35 million budget.
Though Roberts has no immediate plans to change the command structure, he said that without a team approach, the police department won't be able to continue building relationships, serving the community and making the city's neighborhoods safer. He did not talk about specific plans to combat the recent wave of violence in the city.
"My confidence comes from my experience," said Roberts, who has served as commander of nearly every division in the department since he became an officer in 1982.
While the departure of Harnett surprised even his command staff, Harnett said he had always planned to consider leaving after two years. He was a 40-year veteran of the New York Police Department and noted that his wife lives more than 105 miles away and he now wants to get on with his retirement.
After making the announcement Friday, Mayor Eddie A. Perez said he is happy with Harnett's performance and thinks Roberts can continue in the same direction.
"We were lucky to have a veteran law enforcement leader with Chief Harnett's experience and stature to take the reins at our police department," Perez said. "He has accomplished a great deal since he came to Hartford and put in place a neighborhood policing plan that will continue to make Hartford's neighborhoods safer."
While overall crime declined last year, Hartford experienced a rise in assaults and slayings, similar to that in many municipalities its size. Harnett faced other obstacles as well. In recent weeks, the city's North End experienced more than 20 shootings, including the killing of a 15-year-old boy.
Asked why he is leaving now, Harnett cited his family issues and emphasized that he wasn't being run off by challenges in Hartford.
"If that were the case, I would have left a year ago," said Harnett. He said he hopes that Roberts will do a good job. "If you have the right plan and the right leader you can make a difference," he said.
Deputy Police Chief Jose Lopez, who learned of Harnett's departure Friday, said that many of the officers learned a lot from Harnett. "He built a solid foundation," Lopez said.
Harnett appointed every member of the command staff after he divided the city into four parts. He also assigned narcotics, school and community officers and gave them specific areas of the city to cover.
Not everyone believed that Harnett's departure was strictly for family reasons. Some said the decision had, in part, to do with Harnett's becoming a political burden in areas of the city where Perez's support appears to be flagging.
"In my opinion, the chief obviously became a political liability for the mayor in some of the communities in Hartford," Councilman Kenneth Kennedy said. "In many cases, he was just sending the wrong message. And when you do that, you're not going to be the most popular person in certain segments of this community."
Recently, Harnett angered many city residents - particularly citizens in the North End - by his handling of two racially charged situations. Last month, he promoted Stephen J. Miele to lieutenant, 20 months after he had been demoted because a subordinate complained that Miele had ordered him to target black motorists downtown for traffic stops.
Earlier this month, Harnett drew criticism for his comments about the filing of criminal charges against Robert Lawlor, an officer accused of manslaughter in the 2005 shooting death of a young black man.
"It's unfortunate to see a police officer charged with criminal conduct while on duty trying to enforce the law," Harnett said.
Neither the mayor nor Harnett mentioned a rift at the press conference on Friday. Police department spokeswoman Nancy Mulroy said earlier in the day that no such problem existed.
Roberts, 47, is the son of a single mother who raised seven sons in various sections of the city, including the Bellevue Square, Dutch Point and the Martin Luther King housing projects.
He graduated in 1977 from Bulkeley High School, where he was co-captain of the football team and a sprinter on the track team. He earned an associate's degree in criminal justice from Tunxis Community College and a bachelor's degree with honors from Charter Oak State College.
Lt. Charles Wilson, vice chairman of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, said, "We are exceptionally proud of this young man."
Steven Brown, a Bloomfield engineer who has known Roberts since elementary school, said Roberts always had dreams of becoming chief. "He has always been dedicated and hard- working," Brown said.
Roberts has always been willing to earn what he achieves, even if it means getting there the hard way, Brown said. He recalled that as a boy, Roberts walked across town to get to his job at a grocery store on Park Street.
Roberts said he has never considered growing up poor to be a disadvantage. He often visits city schools to tell students that poverty shouldn't shape their outlook. "How you see yourself is what you will become," Roberts told a group of sixth-graders last year while talking about the dangers of gun violence.
During his career, Roberts has enjoyed some successes within the police department. He earned a medal of valor earlier this year for co-authoring the neighborhood policing plan under the Harnett administration.
He also faced some significant challenges. Ten years ago, Roberts filed a discrimination grievance against the department when then-Deputy Chief Robert J. Casati transferred him from the homicide division to the patrol division. Roberts was one of several officers who accused Casati, who was later demoted, of making derogatory remarks about people of certain racial and ethnic groups and gays.
"I think he's going to do a good job. He has the support of the people," said Lopez, the deputy chief. Lt. Peter Bergenholtz, a zone commander in the Northwest District who has worked with Roberts throughout his career, echoed those comments: "I'm with him 100 percent," he said.
Community leaders and other politicians, including council members R. J. Winch and Pedro E. Segarro, stood with Roberts during the announcement. Other key members of Harnett's command staff, including Assistant Chief Michael Fallon and Deputy Chief Neil Dryfe, were not working today and did not attend the announcement.
Segarro said Roberts was a good choice because "he knows the streets of Hartford. All of Hartford knows him because he is tough and compassionate."
While Eric Crawford, a school district intervention worker, said Roberts was a "great choice," Hyacinth Yennie, a neighborhood leader from Maple Avenue voiced some concern.
"We shouldn't have a chief who is going to be a `yes man.' We need a chief who is going to stand up for the people of Hartford," Yennie said. "The only person I will support will be someone who will listen to the people."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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