NORWALK, Conn. — Two Norwalk police officers have left the department due to the “current climate,” Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik said.
“I hope there are not others in the near future but I am told of rumors that one or more that are eligible to retire may do so earlier than they had planned,” Kulhawik said Nov. 11 in an email to NancyOnNorwalk.
Officer Timothy Blasko vested his 11 years in the pension plan and retired effective Nov. 1, Kulhawik said in October.
“I spoke to him and he said that based on the current climate and the state legislature’s actions, etc., he felt it was time for him to go, and he’s decided to leave,” Kulhawik told the Police Commission. “…He’s just leaving police work.”
The legislature, during last summer’s special session, passed a police accountability bill. Norwalk Police union members say that in addition to the “qualified immunity” clause, they object to restrictions on the use of force, social worker involvement in crime scenes, and mandatory psychiatric exams.
Officer Brent Crawford, who came to the department almost two years ago, left for the same reasons, Kulhawik said. Crawford came here from the Orange Police Department and has taken a position with the Port St. Lucie department in Florida, where he “has some family.”
“He was an excellent officer,” Kulhawik said. “I am sorry to see him go. I had a long talk with him and he, again, cited the same reasons as also Blasko for leaving Connecticut.”
Blasko’s LinkedIn page shows that he was on the New York City Police Department for 21 years before coming to Norwalk.
Lt. David O’Connor, police union President, declined to comment specifically on the officers’ resignations, but said, “I certainly hope when the legislature reconvenes, they will pick up on what they’ve created and recognize after speaking with some of the people involved, recognize some of the shortcomings in their legislation, and make some moves to correct it. Not everything there is bad, but there are some things that are very bad. Those need to be adjusted, so we can do our job,” he said.
State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) and State Reps. Lucy Dathan (D-142), Chris Perone (D-137) and Travis Simms (D-140) did not reply to an email seeking a response to that.
In the last two months, two officers who are eligible for retirement have opted instead to go on the DROP (Deferred Retirement Option Plan) plan. Kulhawik said in October that Det. Timothy Marquis was going on the plan as of Nov. 1 and last week said Det. Christina Lapak is going on the plan as of Dec. 1.
At Wednesday’s Police Commission meeting, it was announced the department currently has 176 sworn personnel with five vacancies.
NancyOnNorwalk asked Mayor Harry Rilling about morale.
“I have not spoken to the officers so I can’t comment on their reason or reasons for leaving. I have an open door policy for any officer that feels a need to speak with me,” Rilling said Saturday.
He continued, “I also have periodic conversations with the police union president as well as the other unions representing our city labor force. I have not been made aware of any widespread morale problems. Our police officers are professional men and women who do a very difficult job and I truly respect them and I am very proud of them. I will always provide for them the training and resources they need to do their job safely.”
“There are a lot of concerns about the police accountability bill that the state passed. And it is definitely a major loss for our community to lose any of our outstanding officers because of it,” Police Commissioner Kelly Straniti said Wednesday. “We will stand ready to adapt as need be, and provide the additional resources and support that will surely be required as a result of the legislation.”
She said she didn’t otherwise see any concerns about morale in the department, including with Kulhawik, whose contract expires on Dec. 31, 2023.
“In Norwalk we’re very fortunate to have one of the best departments in the nation, with highly dedicated and skilled officers who undergo continuous training,” she wrote. “Every month we review many emails and letters that come in from people in our community thanking our officers for various jobs well done. In turn, I believe our department feels supported by the chiefs, the police commission, the mayor and the majority of our community. It shows in the passion and excellence they bring to the job every day.”
Updated at 8 p.m.: More information.