Word Of Mouth Drives Sales Of Retired Hartford Street Cop's Story
August 11, 2013
-- Leo LePage's book, about his time as a Hartford street cop, owes a lot to the scrapbooks kept by his late wife, Josephine.
In addition to collecting clippings about her husband's cases, arrests he made and the work of his brother officers, Josephine also recorded a history of the Hartford police department during the 1960s and 1970s.
LePage used that rich history, his own recollections and a bit of artistic license to create "The Badge, the Street and the Cop," a story about (fictional) Officer Lance LaPore.
There's a lot of LePage in LaPore.
LePage's Hartford police department buddies delight in thumbing through the book, looking for characters based on themselves. And, if LePage has his way, they soon will have another book to plumb, which he hopes to publish in the near future.
The book has sold about 3,000 copies, remarkable for a self-published book with little more than word of mouth driving sales. LePage has heard from police officers all over the country who like books that focus on street cops.
From the time he was a kid, LePage dreamed of becoming a Hartford police officer. After four years in the Marines, he applied and became a Hartford cop in March 1961. He was 22.
"I loved to go to work," recalled LePage, 74. "I hated to go on vacation. I loved that job. I think it's a calling."
"The Badge, the Street and the Cop" tells the story of street cops walking lonely beats in the days before portable two-way radios. Young officers learned from the senior men, many of whom were veterans of World War II and Korea, about how to treat people, how to conduct themselves and how to use their wits to get by. It's a story of mostly men doing a hard job during challenging times in a city that was rapidly changing.
"They taught you how to survive," LePage said of his more experienced fellow officers.
There were riots, horrific crimes, deadly fires and unimaginable violence. Five Hartford police officers were killed in the line of duty during LePage's time as a Hartford cop, from 1961 to 1986.
In those days, a patrolman was usually alone when he encountered trouble, and he looked to neighbors or a passing cab driver to call police headquarters to get him backup.
"You needed the people as much as they needed you," LePage recalled. "When you were out there, you were on your own. "
Most of all, a police officer had to treat people fairly and earn the respect of those he served, LePage said.
"You did get into jams out there," he recalled. "No cop is the Hulk. The people would call [headquarters] for you if they liked you. If they didn't, you got your ass kicked."
LePage retired after 26 years on the job. He wasn't much interested in the scrapbooks Josephine assembled. He'd loved being a cop and was proud to have served his hometown, but he was ready to put it behind him.
After his retirement, he went to work for several years in East Hartford as a police dispatcher, but when Josephine's health began to decline, he quit the job and stayed home to care for her.
Josephine had long urged her husband to tell the stories in the form of a book. He was reluctant, but she pressed him. "Do it for me -- just for me," she said. "It doesn't have to go anywhere."
After he finished taking care of Josephine each day, he would sit down and try to write. LePage struggled at first. Sure, they were his stories, but he did not like calling attention to himself.
Josephine had a solution.
"Why don't you resurrect Lance," he recalls her saying. "Let him follow his dream. Let him be a cop."
"I thought that was an amazing idea, and that's what I did," LePage said.
Lance LaPore was LePage's buddy in the Marines. They talked often of their dreams of becoming cops -- LePage in Hartford and LaPore in his hometown of Oakland, Calif. It never happened, though. LaPore was among a dozen Marines killed in a training accident.
LePage brought him back to life in his book.
As Josephine slept, LePage would write. He filled a dozen legal pads with the story of Lance's life on the streets of Hartford -- responding to a triple homicide his first night as a street cop, getting badly beaten by a burglary suspect, catching a fellow cop who was a serial rapist, and wading into angry mobs and using his street smarts and the respect he'd earned as a fair cop to keep the peace.
Night after night, LePage would write.
"I would read it to her every day," he recalled. Two weeks after he'd read Josephine the last chapter, the diabetes that had made her so sick for so long took her. That was Aug. 10, 2009.
LePage tossed the legal pads into a closet and fell into depression.
"After my wife died, I hit the skids," LePage said. "I'd just sit here and drink. It was a box. I was living in a box."
His friends worried. LePage was no longer the tough, resourceful and fun-loving former sergeant they revered. They worried that his life was winding down. Hank Charland, a retired Hartford cop who worked for LePage, kept an eye on his old sergeant. It got so bad at one point, he told the police department's honor guard to begin preparing for LePage's funeral.
LePage and Josephine's best friend, Angela Andreoli, would talk each morning and night. They'd both lost their spouses around the same time and were despondent.
Josephine had told Andreoli that LePage was working on a book about his time as a police officer.
"I asked him to bring it over one day and he did," she said. Andreoli read through LePage's stories and found herself drawn in.
"When I read it, I said 'This is too good, you can't just let it sit there,' " she said.
"Well, I'm not going to do anything with it," LePage replied.
Andreoli had self-published a book, was about to self-publish a second and asked LePage for permission to publish his. Andreoli had her son edit the book, and then forwarded it to the publisher, who promptly lost the edited version, she said. That's why the unedited text was published.
There are typos and other imperfections, but that hasn't stopped people from buying and reading the book, and asking LePage for more.
"Everybody's liking this thing," he said. "It's out there on its own, with no advertising." The book is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other booksellers, he said.
"It was written from love, the heart," LePage said. "And it's true."
Although LePage moved into different assignments during his 26 years as a Hartford cop, his career began and ended in patrol. And it is those street cops who run from call to call and are first to arrive at everything from homicides to sexual assaults who are the heroes of LePage's book. His goal, he said, is for readers to understand a cop's life.
Chapter 2 begins with LaPore's first night on his own as a patrolman, walking a beat on Main Street north of where it meets Albany Avenue. An old-timer has given the young LaPore some advice on how to carry himself, and how to call for help since it's the days before two-way radios.
LaPore's attention is drawn to a commotion on Kennedy Street. He meets the crowd and many are crying and upset. They speak mostly Spanish, and LaPore struggles to make out what's going on. He yells to a passing cab driver to call his dispatcher to have him send backup.
And then LaPore heads toward the trouble. Inside the apartment there is blood everywhere. He is walloped with the stench of urine and feces. On an old army cot against a wall is a young boy, his body cut open from chest to his groin and eviscerated. A second little girl is dead and a third is near death.
LaPore tries to help the little girl, who is still alive, but is also overwhelmed by what he sees. He throws up. And then tries to comfort the dying girl in the apartment and on the way to Hartford Hospital.
The man who did it, the boyfriend of the children's mother, had cut his own throat and was lying in a heap in the middle of the apartment.
Despite the efforts of ambulance attendants and emergency room doctors at Hartford Hospital, the third girl died two days later.
In the book, a police chaplain speaks briefly with LaPore, and then a major approaches. "You did a fine job, son. I want you to go to headquarters and take a hot shower. Take the rest of the shift off. Look, this is a tough one to swallow, but unfortunately, it's what we're all about."
The killing of those three children occurred in 1967. LePage was six years into his career when he answered that call, but in 46 years, it's never left him. "The sight of those kids still haunts me," he said.
Later in the book, LePage recounts a brush with death. His lead character, LaPore, responds to a domestic violence call, walks into an apartment alone and finds himself facing a big, drunk, angry man holding a shotgun. LaPore figured he was dead until a fellow officer, Henry Jenkins, arrived, stealthily entered the apartment, and disarmed the gunman.
The incident was real. And the hero who saved LePage's life that night was Officer Henry Jennings, a police officer who would be killed in the line of duty a short time later, on May 25, 1964. The old police headquarters in the North Meadows is on Jennings Road, which is named in Jennings' honor.
The response to "The Badge, the Street and the Cop" has prompted LePage to keep writing. He's finished a second book that talks about LaPore's life after the police department. It also includes more stories about some of the people LePage worked with.
The new book, called "The Memories of the Forgotten Blue Soldiers," is in search of a publisher.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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