Chris Powell: A city cop, now retiring, who didn't get cynical

Hartford, from across the Connecticut River.

Hartford, from across the Connecticut River.

Hartford's deputy police chief, Brian Foley, the department's spokesman for the last five years, will retire this month, so the other day he went on Ray Dunaway's morning show on WTIC-AM1080 for a half hour to reflect on his 23 years with the department. 

Foley recounted riding a bicycle on a neighborhood patrol beat, working in the homicide division, and then explaining the department to the public. He described his love for the city, his family's involvement in police work elsewhere, and his intention to stay connected with Hartford. 

Less than an hour after Foley walked out of the studio, a fellow Hartford officer, Jill Kidik, was repeatedly stabbed in the neck and nearly murdered by a deranged woman at an apartment building downtown, a crime that horrified the whole state. (Miraculously Kidik is expected to recover fully.) That night a man was shot to death a few blocks away on Hartford's north side. 

It was just another day in Connecticut's capital city, and because so much of the news coming out of Hartford is crime, Foley may have become the city's most recognized figure throughout the state. But the good news from Hartford has been the increasing accountability of the city's police. 

This has been far more than the department's timely provision of incident information, the work that has made Foley famous. It also has been the department's striving to connect with the disadvantaged community it protects, a community full of people who are or have been on the wrong side of the law, a community suspicious of law enforcement and not terribly impressed with the law itself. 

Such a community easily can engender rage in those assigned to police it. (Indeed, it is a bit of a wonder that the deranged woman who nearly murdered the Hartford officer the other day wasn't herself beaten to a pulp during the officer's rescue.) Sometimes that rage has burst out among Hartford officers on duty, but it is also a bit of a wonder that in recent years the Hartford department has been quick to identify misconduct and publicly discipline and dismiss officers. 

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin noted this in his comments on Foley's retirement. Foley, the mayor said, "has helped our department set a national standard for transparency, accountability, and engagement, and he has been deeply committed to the mission of building trust between our police department and the community." 

Apart from being candid and accessible, Foley may have been even more remarkable as a police spokesman for his compassion for some of the young perpetrators whose arrests he answered for. He would acknowledge the handicaps imposed on them by their neglectful upbringing, handicaps worsened by their getting stuck in the criminal-justice system. He rooted for their rehabilitation, not their imprisonment. 

Foley, a Tolland resident, didn't get cynical, but cops have to be forgiven for that. In an old episode of Law & Order the detective played by Jerry Orbach enters a squalid apartment with several other officers. No one else is inside except an abandoned and crying baby. Orbach asks, "How about if I just take him to Rikers (the New York City jail} now?" 

Of course, the scene could have been shot in Hartford. 

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.