Chief Kiely reflects on long career
In more than 40 years, a lot of things have changed in police work, according to Chief Thomas Kiely. But according to the outgoing chief, there is one thing that stays constant.
“The heart and soul of a true police officer hasn’t changed,” Kiely said. “They go out and try to do good.”
Chief Kiely, who retires at the end of the month after almost 41 years in Trumbull, said he learned some important lessons, starting from his time as a patrolman all the way up to his role as an administrator.
“What I found interesting were the people, and there’s a lot of interesting people in this town,” Kiely said of his days on patrol. “Even if it’s a routine call like someone’s mailbox getting smashed, you see that people feel so violated, even when it’s a small crime. You realize that this is the biggest thing in their life right now. I never trivialized that.”
Kiely, who grew up in Bridgeport, worked briefly in Norwalk as a police officer before deciding he wanted to be back closer to his hometown. For Kiely, there was never any other goal but to be a police officer. A big part of his inspiration came from his grandfather, David Bibbins, who retired as a captain from the Bridgeport Police department after 40 years.
Looking back at his long career, things stand out, some good and some bad.
Working on patrol and later as a sergeant, giving family death notifications never got easier, he said.
“You did the best you could,” he said. “I can remember just about every one of them.”
There are a lot of good memories, too.
“I’ve had more laughs at this job than anything,” he said. “Police have a humor unto themselves.”
On patrol, Kiely used to cover the mall a lot, and he said you start to see the same shoplifters again and again.
“I was with my kids one day at the mall, and we saw a couple of girls who used to shoplift there a lot,” Kiely said. “They said hello to us and told my kids, ‘We work a lot with your dad.’ My daughter asks, ‘Oh, are you a policewoman?’ The girl goes, ‘Yeah, kind of like that.’”
Kiely said he never saw himself becoming chief of the department.
“When I made sergeant, that was a bonus,” Kiely said. “I could have lived the rest of my life as a sergeant. It never, ever was I was going to be the chief someday.”
Kiely said the officers behind him made him a good chief, especially Deputy Chief Glenn Byrnes and Deputy Chief Michael Harry. Harry, who has been with the department for more than 41 years, is also retiring at the end of the month.
“I was never an administrator,” Kiely said. “Luckily, Glenn and Mike stepped up. I had never done a budget before. Glenn and Mike carried me, I didn’t carry them.”
Kiely is proud of the strides the department has made in the last 10 years. He is proud of the growth of the Emergency Response Team, the scuba team and the increase in training.
“We have the ability now to respond to incidents like a Boston [bombing] or school shooting,” Kiely said. “We have the critical incident truck now. We are one of the few ERT teams to have self-contained breathing apparatus, so we could enter a fire situation.”
He is very proud of the dispatch upgrade that is ongoing at the department.
“I think that will be huge, with everyone under one roof,” he said of centralized dispatch. “That was a major problem in every incident we had. It works fine as long as only one call is coming in at a time. But when it’s all coming in at once, it’s difficult. In the past, we’ve sent guys to wires down, only to find out fire had already been there. This is going to be huge.”
He is also proud of a low crime rate.
“I’ve been blessed with the people we hire,” Kiely said. “They go out and do amazing things, every day.”
It’s not always an easy job.
“There is an old saying in police work, ‘They only like us when they need us,’” Kiely said.
With criticism often aimed at police, Kiely said, his best advice for officers is to remember they are dealing with people often during the most difficult moments of their life.
“I just tell officers that the littlest thing you do, people will remember it,” Kiely said. “A lot of these people, this will be the only time they have an experience with the police department, so try to make it a good one.”
Kiely speaks highly of all the people he has worked with through the years, both police and civilian. One person he remembers fondly and with sadness is Brian Casey. Casey, who died in 2012, after battling cancer, ran the computer systems in the police department.
“I’ve made a lot of friends in Trumbull,” Kiely said. “After 41 years, this is all you know.”
The camaraderie among officers is also something special, according to the chief. Perhaps the best example of that bond is a story he tells about his grandfather, who, 25 years after his retirement, was lying in a hospital bed on New Year’s Eve, close to death. Doctors needed to get more blood that matched his grandfather’s type. Kiely’s mother decided to try to the Bridgeport Police Department, who told her they would ask around and do their best.
About half an hour later, when Kiely heard someone walk into the hospital asking for Capt. Bibbins, he was shocked to see that six officers had rushed over to donate a pint of blood each, saving his grandfather’s life.
“Most of these guys had never worked with him,” Kiely said.
In Trumbull, Kiely is grateful for the people he says make him look good.
He believes the incoming chief, Michael Lombardo, will do a great job leading the department.
In retirement, Kiely plans on spending time with his five grandchildren, traveling and getting in a few more golf games.
He has been touched by the outpouring of messages from people around town, who heard about his upcoming retirement.
“Trumbull’s strength is not in its politics, it’s the people that live here,” he said. “Sometimes politics clouds that. I will miss a lot of people in town, some Democrat, some Republican and all genuinely good people.”