Westport Police Chief Dale Call gave Westport Sunrise Rotary a simple message on May 18 at BobbyQ’s Restaurant: be more civil and respectful to your neighbors, obey STOP signs and red lights, do not use your cell phone while you’re driving and lock your doors when you leave home.
Call grew up in Westport, “my family has been here next to forever.” He graduated from Staples in 1980 and joined the department as a part time officer. In 1982 he became a full time policeman, and a second generation police officer. He “grew up in the police department,” and was appointed chief last October.
Today he is the only second generation officer remaining, though he added his department has “a lot of Staples graduates in its command staff.”
Reflecting on his service, he has “no complaints, I’ve had a great career, though I never expected to earn two stars.” “Everything good that has happened has happened because of my job,” including meeting his future wife while responding to an accident involving an injured dog on the Post Road.
Westport has changed, Call stated. “When I was young I knew everyone who lived within a mile of my house.” Gone are the days, he lamented, when neighbor would ask neighbor to turn down the music. Today many of the police’s calls have them acting as neighbor, and asking for greater civility.
Fortunately for Westport, civility is a greater problem than major crime. One frequent example is that people increasingly treat red lights and STOP signs as though they are “optional.”
Cell phones, too, are a growing problem, and texting while driving is worse. “There’s always a story” Call said “when an officer stops a driver for using a cell phone.” You’d think they know a policeman has heard them all.
Then he added that police are exempt from the law. They can talk on a handheld phone while they drive.
At the same time, one of the “field” lessons brought home to Westport’s police, on top of all their training, is that better listening encourages greater civility and respect. Particularly so because “we often encounter people having the worst day of their life.” He added “we’re still waiting for the call inviting us to share a plate of freshly baked cookies.”
He summed by saying Westport is a “very, very safe town,” and when there is crime, our police almost always get the perpetrator.
The chief is also focused on continuing to develop the type of police department that best serves this community. In days past many young people, like Call, grew up in Westport, knew the community and wanted to join.
Not so today. The chief said they are looking beyond test scores for prospective officers, and are seeking “candidates who will fit into the community because most are not from the community.”