On Monday, his first day as the new Madison Police Commander, John J. Rich said he was looking forward to meeting the police officers, finding out about their families, and learning more about what motivates them.
If those officers want to learn more about Rich, his family, and what motivates him, they'll only have to look over his right shoulder in his office at Madison Police Department headquarters, where Rich has already done a little interior decorating with the help of his family members, present and past.
His daughters, Lila, 9, and Julia, 11, have decorated the white board with smiley faces, Kilroy, and a happy stick figure under the words "Case closed." Next to that whiteboard, on top of a cabinet, are framed black and white photographs of two police officers who serve as an inspiration for Rich. His grandfather Chester H. Rich Jr. and his father Chester H. Rich III both were police officers in Providence, RI. The portraits, two of his grandfather and one of his father, will be looking on as John Rich starts his new job as the second-in-command reporting to Madison Police Chief Jack Drumm at the Madison Police Department.
Watching his father on the job
Rich admires his grandfather but never really knew him since his Chester H. Rich Jr. died when his grandson was an infant. He knew his dad well, and loves to talk about the work Chester H. Rich III did as he rose to captain of the Providence police department. He watched as his father battled ruthless mobsters and organized crime in Providence. He watched as his father adapted to the community's constantly shifting social environment in the 1950s and 1960s, including the Civil Rights Era.
Following the great Blizzard of 1978, when 27.6 inches of snow fell on Providence in 24 hours, Rich, then 13, heard about how his father helped save people, then set up a shelter at the police department and worked for four days straight until, felled by a badly twisted ankle, his father had to be carted home in a huge payloader, which was the only vehicle the city could find that could make it through the snow-clogged streets. Young John Rich watched in awe as that payloader, carrying his father, made its way down the street to his house.
It's fair to say that Rich grew up knowing what it takes to be a police officer. Once he became an officer, it's clear that he put what he learned into action. He has been a detective sergeant with the Eastern District Major Crime Squad, a resident trooper for the town of Ledyard, CT, and a lieutenant with the Connecticut State Police, where he was also commanding officer of the Division of Internal Affairs.
Awards and citations for meritorious service; experience working in a community
According to Rich's LinkedIn profile, his work has garnered a long list of awards, including awards for being the top graduate in his training class, for crisis intervention leadership, three awards for meritorious service, a lifesaving award, and two awards for outstanding police service.
He helped nab numerous suspects, including a child murderer, a serial rapist, armed robbers and kidnappers. He also has been recognized for showing "exemplary performance and leadership in his ... duties when assisting persons in psychiatric or emotional crisis in the community." He also helped save a man's life by administering CPR after the man had a heart attack in his car on I-95.
Of his past experience, Rich says his service as a resident state trooper in Ledyard is probably most similar to the kind of work he expects to be doing in Madison. While the two communities are different, he said, as a resident state trooper he became comfortable working with municipal government and "identifying the needs and setting goals as they relate to a community."
Improving quality of life, solving problems, providing support to officers
He said he is looking forward to learning about "the issues that concern people about the quality of life in Madison, and how the police department can help with those."
Also, as a member of the state police major crime squad, Rich said he learned problem solving skills and critical thinking skills.
"Those skills can transfer to a lot of situations in life," he said.
"A deep and abiding concern for each other's well-being"
Rich said he was particularly proud of his work as a founding member of the State Trooper Officers Peer Support program, or STOPS. "Police officers are generally more comfortable with people from their own culture, and talking with respected peers," he said. As a founding member of STOPS, Rich helped create a structure that, in an organized way, addresses and deals with issues that arise a result of police work, including shift work, traumatic experiences, and other stresses inherent in the job.
From the time the STOPS program was initiated, around October of 2007, it was deemed extremely successful, according to a report from the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. In the first year alone, more than 430 state troopers took advantage of the brand new program, which provided peer counseling, support for citizen soldiers, family assistance, critical incident stress management, and enhanced access to chaplaincy services and the Employee Assistance Program.
"It was clear from the beginning that our State Troopers, as a group, harbor a deep and abiding concern for each other’s well-being," wrote Thomas A. Kirk, Jr., commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services in a report on the program. "We at DMHAS have been so impressed by the generosity of spirit exhibited by the seventy or so Troopers who have stepped forward to invest their time, genuine concern and talent for the betterment of their fellow Troopers. In effect, the STOPS program is a new social structure through which the daily practice of mutual support both creates and strengthens a sense of community."
"I look forward to clearing that hurdle"
Despite his many successes, Rich recognizes there may be some concern among some in the Madison police ranks that he did not come from the ranks. "I'd like to think I speak the same language," he said. "But, being from outside? I know that's a hurdle. I look forward to clearing that hurdle. They need to get used to me and my style. I need to get used to them and their style."
Rich said he is enormously grateful for the opportunity to work in the Madison Police Department and that he had a good first day on the job. After spending time with human resources, he spent some time in town hall, at the town's public works garage, and also downtown, meeting town employees and residents. He met officers on the day shift and evening shift.
"I'm very excited to be here," he said.
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