NORWALK, Conn. -- As a former police officer and chief and current mayor of Connecticut's sixth-largest city, Norwalk's Harry Rilling offers a unique perspective and insight on the recent killings of eight American cops.
“It’s something unlike I’ve ever seen, and I don’t think it’s something many have,’’ Rilling said Tuesday in a phone interview with Daily Voice. “It sends shivers down your spine. I think what people have to realize is it was accomplished by two individuals. The vast majority of people demonstrating are doing so peacefully.”
“It’s something unlike I’ve ever seen and I don’t think it’s something many have. It sends shivers down your spine." -- Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling
Rilling, Norwalk’s mayor since 2013, served as the city’s police chief from 1995 to 2012. The 1965 Norwalk High grad joined the city’s police department in 1971 after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy.
After five Dallas officers were slain on July 7, Rilling sent a letter to Norwalk residents that outlined what how the city was taking to steps to minimize the likelihood of a similar incident in his city.
“Our officers are trained in fair and impartial policing,’’ Rilling said. “We have resource officers in every school. We have a cadet corps to encourage young people to work with police officers. We encourage police officers to reach out to the community, and have the people in the community know our officers. It’s a time like this where those relationships need to be recognized and capitalized.”
Rilling said police and community need to work together to resolve issues, and not just in times of crisis. “We need to sit and talk,’’ he said. “We have to have ongoing dialogues. We have to build that trust and respect in our communities. You don’t demand respect, you earn it. I expect our officers to respect the residents of our community. I also expect the community to respect officers. It’s a two-way street.”
Rilling recognizes police brutality exists, but believes most officers are good, hard-working cops. “We can’t hide our heads in the sand,’’ he said. “We have to recognize when a problem exists. But we can’t paint all law enforcement with the same brush.
"We have to have the courage when an officer makes a bad to decision to do what’s necessary and take appropriate action. There are some that fall through the cracks, and we have to take appropriate action.”
Rilling plans to meet with state and federal officials to offer his input on how relationships can be improved between police and community. “I don’t have the answers,’’ he said. “I do know the vast majority of people want to live peacefully, pursue happiness and have equal justice. Everybody in the community wants the same thing. It should not be hard to accomplish if we respect each other.”
As a former officer and chief, Rilling found profound sadness in the deaths of the cops in Dallas and Baton Rouge. “My first thought was one of a deep feeling of grief and sadness,’’ he said. “As it starts to sink in, it’s a degree of anger. It’s really shocking that something like this could happen here.
“The last thing any police chief or mayor wants is that phone call that an officer has been shot and killed or shot in the line of duty,’’ he added. “The other thing no chief or mayor wants to hear is that an officer had to use deadly physical force. Any loss of life is a tragedy.”
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