Two new officers, both with previous law enforcement experience, were sworn in Thursday as the newest members of the West Hartford Police Department.
By Ronni Newton
The West Hartford Police Department welcomed its two newest officers – both of whom are already certified officers from other departments – Thursday afternoon at a swearing-in ceremony in the department’s training room.
COVID-19 restrictions were in place, but the celebration was able to be attended by a small group of family, friends, department members, and town officials.
“This is challenging times, different times for all of us,” Chief Vernon Riddick said, who expressed his appreciation to both Off. Matthew Zobel and Off. Alexander Laureano for choosing the West Hartford Police Department from among other opportunities.
“Given the fact that we are hiring two certified police officers, I want to say ‘thank you.’ … You’ve made a conscious decision based upon numerous factors to come to West Hartford,” Riddick said. Both are even choosing to leave warmer climates to come to Connecticut.
“We need help, we have a ton of retirements coming up this year,” said Riddick, retirements that are due to the benefits in pensions that officers hired in the past received.
“I assure you that we will not let you down. That does not mean that we will always be in agreement, that does not mean that things will always be easy, but it does mean we will always have your back,” Riddick said.
While those who have been police officers for a long time didn’t anticipate COVID, or George Floyd, or everything else that has been happening when they signed up, “the oath doesn’t change,” Riddick said. “The commitment doesn’t change. The dedication doesn’t change. The public still needs us and we need them.”
Asst. Chief Dan Coppinger provided some background information about each of the two new officers.
Zobel is originally from Michigan, graduating from Hartland Consolidated High School in 2003 and earning an associates degree in liberal arts from Kalamazoo Valley Community College in 2006. From there, he continued his education at West Michigan University, initially majoring in aeronautical engineering but earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with minors in philosophy and social work in 2008.
He began his law enforcement career with the Texas Department of Public Safety’s highway patrol, and served nearly 11 years as Texas State Trooper in the Dallas area, attaining the rank of Trooper Third Class. He “specialized in crash investigation and reconstruction, firearms instruction, and field force operations,” Coppinger said. He also worked in border operations security, hurricane operations, school initiatives, and more.
Zobel and his fiancé, Kimberly McGrane, and her two daughters, live in West Hartford.
Laureano, who was born in Hartford, is a 2012 graduate of Conard High School and graduated from the University of Tampa in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
He worked as a deputy sheriff for the Hillsborough County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office from October 2016 until his current relocation to Hartford with his wife, Janelle.
Town Clerk Essie Labrot administered the oath of office to both Zobel and Laureano, and Riddick pinned them with their badges.
Mayor Shari Cantor told the new officers, both of whom have previous West Hartford connections, that she is very happy to welcome them.
“From the bottom of my heart, we stand with our police department. We love what you do, how you represent us, and we are so proud … I get all the anecdotal comment from residents that they are so respectful,” Cantor said.
Town Manager Matt Hart also extended his thanks to both officers for joining the West Hartford team.
“We are extremely appreciative of the work you do,” Hart said. “Our public safety is one of the most important services we provide,” he said. “I know what a challenging time it is for you to do your work … we are here to support you, we are here to support you and your families in the work that you do,” he said, noting that there are also high expectations and a culture of excellence.
Neither Zobel nor Laureano will need to attend the police academy, but both will receive West Hartford-specific training.
Lt. Eric Rocheleau, who heads the West Hartford Police Department’s Training Division, presented both officers with copies of their oaths and their rights cards – which also include a copy of the oath.
“The oath incorporates the police department’s mission statement,” Rocheleau told the officers. “Within the oath it references providing professional police services through active cooperation with our community. Now, more than ever, it is so important.”
The paper hearts in windows and signs on lawns are examples of the community’s support of the police department’s efforts.
Drawing on a statement originally made by Winston Churchill, Rocheleau said, “The citizens of West Hartford sleep soundly in their beds knowing that their officers stand ready in the night to protect them from harm.”
Deacon Dennis Ferguson gave the invocation.
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