Government Police/Fire

West Hartford Police Department Welcomes Six New Officers

West Hartford Police Chief Vernon Riddick shakes the hand of newly sworn in Off. Karoli Rodriguez. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

A swearing-in ceremony for the six new officers was held Tuesday afternoon at West Hartford Town Hall.

West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor delivers the oath of office at a swearing-in on April 19, 2022. From left are new officers Benjamin Watkins, Conor Brown, John Selmer, Skylar Lang, Karoli Rodriguez, and Nathaniel Michaud. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

Six new officers were officially sworn in as members of the West Hartford Police Department at a ceremony Tuesday afternoon at Town Hall.

Two of the new department members, Officers Benjamin Watkins and Conor Brown, are already certified police officers with several years of experience and join the town from the Henrico County (Virginia) Police Department. They will participate in a program focused on Connecticut laws and policies and the West Hartford Police Department’s operations prior to beginning their field training.

Offs. Benjamin Watkins (left) and Conor Brown have both joined the West Hartford Police Department after serving five years as officers with the Henrico County (Virginia) Police Department. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The other four officers – John Selmer, Skylar Lang, Karoli Rodriguez, and Nathaniel Michaud will report to the Milford Police Academy this Thursday, and following graduation will continue their training in West Hartford.

“We’ve heard a lot about this new cohort of officers over the past couple of weeks,” Acting Town Manager Rick Ledwith said. “Everyone is saying the same thing. This group of new officers is collectively very impressive.”

He congratulated all on completing the incredibly rigorous and competitive process. “We invite you to take up the stewardship and the challenge of a long and rich history of excellence. West Hartford will provide you with much to enable you to bring your highest professional aspirations within reach. … We challenge each of you to accept no compromises in the pursuit of excellence in public safety.”

Chief Vernon Riddick welcomed the new officers as well, joking that the recruiting and professional standards team has been trying hard to hire a new officer who is taller than he is – and almost succeeded with Watkins. Riddick is 6-feet 6-inches tall, and Watkins – who like Riddick played basketball in college – is roughly the same height.

“We are a family,” Riddick said, also urging the officers’ families to make sure they don’t let the power and authority go to the new officers’ heads. “When you get this badge that you will earn, you aren’t being better than someone, you’re actually becoming more humble as a servant. This job really is about service,” he said.

“We could hire a robot just to give out tickets, that’s easy. But exercising some compassion, some empathy, exercising an opportunity to understand that sometimes people are just having a bad day and this could be the only interaction they are going to have with you in their entire life … keep that in mind,” Riddick said.

He told the officers to exercise force where necessary, but “just because force could be justified doesn’t mean it’s necessary. Keep that in mind.”

New West Hartford Police Department officers pose for a photo with department and town leadership following a swearing in ceremony on April 19, 2022. From left: Chief Vernon Riddick, Sgt. Amanda Martin, Acting Town Manager Rick Ledwith, Off. Benjamin Watkins, Off. Conor Brown, Off. Nathaniel Michaud, Off. Skylar Lang, Off. John Selmer, Off. Karoli Rodriguez, Asst. Chief Larry Terra, Mayor Shari Cantor, Assistant Chief Rob Riccobon. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor administered the oath of office to the following new officers.

Off. Benjamin Watkins

Watkins, who has been a patrol officer for five years with the Henrico County Police Department just outside of Richmond, VA, is a graduate of Chancellor High School in Fredericksburg, VA. He earned a degree in history with a minor in leadership studies from Christopher Newport University, where he also played forward for the basketball team and was involved in the leadership program.

He and his family made the decision to move to Connecticut to be closer to other family members in New England, said Assistant Chief Larry Terra, who read the bios of the new officers.

Off. Conor Brown

Brown, the other certified officer, has also been an officer for five years with the Henrico County Police Department and is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in business management in an online program through Liberty University.

Brown is from Plainsboro, NJ, and was a volunteer firefighter and EMT for the Plainsboro Fire Department before joining the United States Army where he served three years as an infantryman.

Like Watkins, family connections brought him back to the Northeast.

Off. John Selmer

A native of Stamford, CT, Selmer is a graduate of J.M. Wright Technical School and earned a B.S. in physical education from Eastern Connecticut State University.

For 20 years, Selmer owned and operated a landscaping business and also spent seven years as a volunteer firefighter and EMT with specialized training as an ice rescue instructor and fire prevention coordinator.

Off. Skylar Lang

Lang grew up in Canton, CT, and is a 2014 graduate of Canton High School. He attended Northwestern Connecticut Community College and Central Connecticut State University, and following graduation worked in a surgical recovery unit at Hartford Hospital.

Terra said that he “decided it was time for a change in career path,” and is now realizing his goal of becoming a police officer.

Off. Karoli Rodriguez

Rodriguez was born in Lima, Peru, and grew up in Meriden, CT, graduating from Platt High School in 2013.

She earned a B.S. in political science with a minor in Spanish, and after graduating in 2017 served with AmeriCorps for a year with Public Allies Connecticut. She then continued her education with a focus on crime scene investigation, earning an M.S. in forensic technology from the University of New Haven in 2021.

Nathaniel Michaud

Michaud, who grew up in Cromwell, CT, graduated from Cromwell High School in 2017.

He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve following graduation, and attended the University of New Haven to study criminal justice. He recently attending training in Quantico, VA, and “decided to finally pursue his dream of becoming a police officer,” Terra said.

Sgt. Amanda Martin served as master of ceremonies.

Rev. Dana Hallenbeck, a former West Hartford Police officer and director of Public Works for the town, gave the invocation.

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