Chief Kehoe Departing After Long Police Career
After 37 years as a town police officer, Michael Kehoe, who rose through the police department’s ranks from patrolman to chief, is retiring from municipal law enforcement.
Chief Kehoe, 60, who joined the Newtown Police Department on July 1, 1978, will serve his last day as police chief on January 6. He announced his retirement in June.
Mr Kehoe is the fourth man to serve as chief of the department, which was organized in 1971.
Following Chief Kehoe’s departure, James Viadero, 56, of Sandy Hook will become the police chief. Mr Viadero had served as a Newtown Police Commission member from 2009 to 2014, leaving that position on becoming Middlebury’s police chief.
After initially working as a patrol officer, Mr Kehoe was assigned to be the town’s youth officer and later a school resource officer. He later was promoted to the rank of sergeant. He never held the rank of lieutenant, instead jumping from the rank of sergeant to captain.
In the police department, the sole captain serves as the executive officer, who is second-in-command to the chief.
In mid-1999, after the Police Commission placed then-chief James E. Lysaght, Jr, on administrative leave with pay for substandard job performance, Mr Kehoe, who was then the captain, functioned, in effect, as the acting chief in Mr Lysaght’s absence.
The Police Commission pursued termination against Mr Lysaght, eventually firing him. Mr Lysaght contested the firing and filed an appeal in Danbury Superior Court, which he eventually lost.
After losing the appeal, Mr Lysaght dropped efforts to regain his job. In 2001, the Police Commission appointed Mr Kehoe to the post of police chief.
Fond Memories, Department Advances Recalled
In a recent interview, Chief Kehoe recalled some fond memories of his years as the youth officer in which he would travel among local schools serving as a law enforcement role model for the students. He served as the town’s first DARE officer, providing “drug abuse resistance education,” in which students learned how to resist peer group pressure to use drugs.
Chief Kehoe said that when he joined the police department in 1978, he had no expectation that he would someday become its chief.
“A series of opportunities [arose] where you could hope that experience, training, and skill sets are noticed by others,” resulting in his progressing through the ranks, he explained.
Asked to describe some of the advances made by the police department during his tenure as chief, Chief Kehoe said the department received its first accreditation as law enforcement agency in 2005 and has been reaccredited several times since then; the department reinstituted its police dog program; the Triad crime prevention program for the elderly was started; the department formed a traffic services unit; a program for the proper disposal of unwanted prescription medications was started; the police department formed an Explorer post, and then a Cadet post, for youths interested in learning about police work.
In addition, the department started a bicycle patrol; an accident reconstruction unit was organized; the Citizen Police Academy and Student Police Academy programs were conducted; a commercial truck enforcement unit was created; and school security officers were hired for the enhanced protection of schools.
Also, crisis intervention teams were organized to better handle crisis situations; police started using tasers as a less-than-lethal weapon; video cameras mounted on police vehicle dashboards, known as “dashcams,” were first used to record interactions between police and the public, and police also plan to start using body-mounted cameras, known as “bodycams,” to record public interactions, he said.
“We have progressed as an organization…to be the most [effective] police organization we can be,” Chief Kehoe said.
Asked about the effects that the harrowing December 2012 shooting incident at Sandy Hook School had on the police department, Chief Kehoe said, “We held together as a team, as a workforce.”
Police department members rebalanced themselves following the incident, he said.
“A lot of healing has gone on … There are brighter days ahead for us,” he said.
The need for better gun control in society will require a long-term public conversation about the issue, he noted.
The police chief also commented on two cases of town police officers being arrested for illegal activity while working in law enforcement.
In April 2015, federal authorities arrested then-sergeant Steven Santucci and civilian dispatcher Jason Chickos in connection with an anabolic steroids drug manufacturing and distribution ring. Both men have pleaded guilty to criminal charges and are awaiting sentencing.
In 2010, two town police officers, Andrew Stinson and sergeant Domenic Costello, were arrested for having stolen approximately $200,000 from the Newtown Police Union’s coffers. Both men later pleaded guilty to criminal charges, made restitution, and served brief jail sentences.
Of the two criminal cases, Chief Kehoe said, “I wish they had never happened ... It tarnished and stunned our agency.”
The police chief attributed the criminal behavior to greed, fueled by the desire for money. The criminal cases unfortunately overshadowed the positive values exhibited by town police on a daily basis, the chief said.
Chief Kehoe said that after retirement, he plans to continue serving as a member of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association’s Officer Wellness Committee. The committee seeks to improve the professional lives of police officers, extending from their hiring to their retirement.
The chief said he currently is not seeking new employment. Among his favorite activities are downhill skiing, golfing, and basketball. The chief is married and has two grown sons.
'Distinguished At Every Level Of The Department'
People who know Chief Kehoe well offered some comments on the man.
First Selectman Pat Llodra said, “On July 1, 1978, Mike Kehoe joined our Newtown police force. At that swearing-in, he pledged to serve with honor, to uphold the values and laws of our community, state, and nation. For 37 years he has delivered on that promise.
“Mike helped build this community. He distinguished himself at every level of the police department hierarchy, taking on new roles and responsibilities with the same dedication and sense of purpose that are his earmarks today,” Mrs Llodra said.
“The two bookend roles that best describe Mike are school resource officer and chief. He was our first-ever SRO, setting a standard of care and school-based service that remains in place today. And as chief, he demonstrates those same attributes of professionalism and sincerity of purpose, mixed with a heavy dose of kindness and humility,” Mrs Llodra added.
“I watched Mike navigate the most horrific of circumstances with dignity and compassion, and have witnessed his steadfastness and persistence in responding to organizational issues. Mike is a treasure and has been of great value to our community. We are a better Newtown because Chief has been part of our growth and development,” Mrs Llodra said.
Police Captain Joe Rios said, in part, “As a former member of the union executive board, the chief was instrumental in working with the police union and town officials on maintaining competitive wages, benefits, and quality working conditions for the agency.
“His door was always open, and he spent a great amount of time meeting with employees and the public in order to better meet their needs. He was at his best by way of how he demonstrated calmness and confidence during stressful and difficult times over the course of his career,” Capt Rios said.
“He would always put the needs of the agency before his own and very much cared deeply for the members of this department and for the residents of Newtown. In my opinion, we owe him a great debt of gratitude for all of his efforts and accomplishments over the past 37-plus years,” Capt Rios said.
Police Commission Chairman Joel Faxon said, “Chief Kehoe has led our department through some difficult times with a strong and steady hand. We are saddened to see him leave.
“At the same time, for the agency, the chief’s departure provides an opportunity to move forward with important initiatives that will continue to allow our officers to provide the best possible service to the citizens of the Town of Newtown. We wish him the best of luck in the future and I take a lot of comfort in knowing that Chief Kehoe is only a phone call away,” Mr Faxon said.
Of Chief Kehoe’s tenure, former Police Commission chairman Paul Mangiafico said, in part, “His years of service have been truly exemplary. He has served our town and his chosen profession with distinction and has set a record of accomplishments that have been recognized locally and nationally.
“In 2014, he was honored by the Police Commissioners Association of Connecticut by being chosen to receive the Distinguished Chief’s Award. It is with great admiration and thanks that I wish him a very well-deserved retirement,” Mr Mangiafico added.