Everybody at the Montville Police station on the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 31, wanted to shake hands with Resident State Trooper Sgt. Michael Collins. Everybody wanted to say something to him.
And he had something to say to each of them. He asked about this one’s son, that one’s wife, this one’s past or upcoming vacation. Asked by name, and by place, with a specificity that showed true knowledge, not just a glossing, passing acquaintance.
It was Collins’s last day as resident state trooper in Montville. It was his last day as a state trooper, period, after 24 years.
The changes to the retirement and pension system meant that staying another year, hitting that 25-year mark, would cost him money. The smart decision was to leave now, with the benefits as they are.
There is talk about him coming back as a school resource officer, and Collins says he would certainly consider the position if it became available. In the meantime, he is looking forward to taking a month off completely, and starting to do all the things he hasn’t done in the past 24 years.
IN THE CRAMPED, OLD, former-toll-house police station, Montville Police officer Earnie Greenwood is scrambling eggs while his son Sam cooks bacon. Former officer Dave Rollins is flipping pancakes like a pro. Montville Police personnel, Montville Town Hall employees, Mayor Joe Jaskiewicz, several town councilors, members of the Public Safety Building Committee and the Public Safety Commission and many more clog the hallway.
They have come to pay their respects to the man who’s headed the station for the past four and a half years.
The new resident state trooper, Sgt. Troy Gelinas, is also there, saying goodbye to Collins and hello to the Montville Police Department.
AS RESIDENT STATE TROOPER, Collins, 49, was the commanding officer. His role was partly administrative, and partly, he is out on the streets. Collins was the resident state trooper in East Lyme for 11 years before coming to Montville, he says, so he had a good idea of what the job was all about before he started.
He says that in addition to the administrative duties, he became involved with the officers and involved in their lives.
“You’re responsible for the men and women who work for you. You have to constantly be worried about what’s happening to them. If somebody got hurt in an accident, you show up at the hospital for them. If somebody was having problems at home, you wanted to make sure they got everything they needed… it wasn’t just your issues, it was everybody’s issues in the department.”
COLLINS'S BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT is not a huge drug bust or chasing down a notorious felon. It is getting the Neighborhood Watch program going again, with Montville Police Officer Gregg Jacobson.
The Neighborhood Watch has helped the police department deter criminal activity and catch criminals, Collins says, but more than that, it has helped the department improve the quality of life.
Here’s an example: Through the Neighborhood Watch, Collins received a phone call about a young driver who was perpetually speeding in a neighborhood in town.
Collins says he went to the young man’s home and told him in no uncertain terms that if he didn’t stop speeding in the neighborhood, Collins would “bury him and his lawyer in paperwork.”
“You’ll be in court constantly,” Collins says he told the man.
Not only did he stop speeding in the neighborhood, Collins says, but in time, he joined the Neighborhood Watch group.
An offshoot of the on-the-ground group is the Montville Watch Facebook page, where citizens, Jacobson and others ask and answer questions, and offer updates on police and community activities.
“The community has to understand what your job is all about,” Collins says.
THE MOST REWARDING PART OF HIS JOB, he says, is when he has had the chance to affect a child’s life. When a kid is going off track, and you can sit that kid down and talk to him or her, and let the kid know that prison is not like what you see on TV.
“Prison is not a nice place,” he says. “Brutal stuff goes on there.”
COLLINS SAYS HE FEELS LUCKY to have worked with Mayor Joe Jaskiewicz, who, Collins says, gave him whatever he asked for, as long as he could justify the need.
And he says that working with Lt. Leonard Bunnell was a great experience, as well.
“I’ve worked with a lot of police officers,” Collins says. “Lenny is the hardest-working guy I’ve ever worked with.”
COLLINS'S ATTITUDE TOWARD LEADERSHIP is deceptively simple: “I just let them do their jobs,” he says.
“It’s easy to be a good boss when you have people who know what they’re doing,” he says. “They make me look like gold.”