- Associated Press - Sunday, May 7, 2017

URBANA, Ill. (AP) - Effective 5 p.m. April 14, he’s just “Pat,” not “Chief Connolly.”

After 29 years with Urbana police, where he rose from patrolman to the man in charge, Patrick Connolly’s final shift came. It’s not a retirement but a resignation - due to a family medical situation and a desire to spend more time watching his grandkids grow up - but whatever you call it, he knows life will be different.

“I’ll get a retirement badge,” he says. And being on the job for as long as he has comes with other privileges. “After 9/11, there was a law passed throughout the country to allow retired officers with more than 10 years of service to qualify annually to continue carrying a firearm.”

On the eve of his final shift, Connolly sat down with staff writer Natalie Wickman for a look back - and a peek into the future.

-What’s been the most heart-wrenching case during your time with UPD?

“I was on call when four family members saw their father kill their mom and then himself. I don’t want to minimize other death investigations - they’re all heart-wrenching - but this one rises because the kids saw it. There were a minimum number of detectives available that night and I was so overwhelmed with work … it was the first time I called in the emergency services support team. It’s a group of volunteer pastors, social workers, etcetera, who are all trained in crisis trauma and they respond to catastrophic events so we can focus on the criminal investigation.

“I was so touched by the compassion they showed for the four kids. They kept them together and I knew there were in good hands. I’ll never forget that as long as I live and I’ll never forget the support I got from them.”

-What’s been the case you were proudest to solve?

“When you solve a double murder, you feel as though there’s closure for families and you’ve reduced risk. There was one in Lincoln Trailer Park (as it was known at the time) and incredible amounts of work were done by the patrol and detective teams. Dan Morgan and I interviewed folks in the penitentiary system and were able to solve it.”

-How about the most fascinating case?

“The 2004-05 basketball season, when the University of Illinois was in the Final Four. University settings were going through celebratory violence from drunk students at the time. We had almost no problems because we worked so well with businesses, community leaders and students from the university.

“Being commander of that team is certainly something I’ll always remember. … There were 210 police officers who did an incredible amount of work. Everything we do is done in collaboration - police need a network of citizens, volunteers, fellow officers, crime scene analysts, etcetera.”

-How has law enforcement in Urbana changed the most from the time you started to now?

“In the past, officers had a different mindset, role and function. We engage so much more with the community now, and in my opinion, that’s very positive. Letting the community be a part of the solution, like with neighborhood watch groups, rather than just letting police arrest people.

“Where we relied on people for specialties like mental health and crime scene processing, now our officers have taken on some of those responsibilities. Today, they have to wear a lot of hats but we also collaborate with a lot of people when in the past the police were on their own island.

“Things like the Fresh Start initiative and community coalition meetings - I don’t think Fresh Start could’ve happened years ago. In the past, police acted and nobody knew what was going on. Today, we can brief them at community coalition meetings and we allow people to ask us questions and we’ll say ‘Yeah, we made a mistake on that.’”

-Will you still listen to the scanner when you’re off the job?

“No. One thing I won’t miss are the 24/7 phone calls and briefings. I don’t wake up to alarms but I wake up to this phone and I’ve gotta train myself to stop listening for it to vibrate.

“My wife, Cindy, and I said having the ability to turn this phone off at night will have to be something I become accustomed to. Cindy carried so much of the family function while I worked that I can’t begin to express how much I recognize and appreciate all she’s done.”

-How do you think you’ll be spending a typical day a year from now?

“Hopefully during the fall, I’ll be bow hunting. I’m absolutely addicted. I’m going to continue teaching youth archery in the winter with the East Central Illinois Archers Association. I’ll participate in that as long as I can and pass the tradition onto my family - I bought my granddaughter her first bow.

“I’ll also be spending more time with my family in addition to teaching periodically with the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System. We prepare officers mentally and emotionally for mass gathering situations that are emotionally charged.”

-Do you have a final comment you’d like to add?

“Thank you to anybody who worked to support the police and community. I’m always impressed by the outpouring of support and I was humbled by the number of people who contacted me when I resigned to thank me. I want to thank them for trying to make this a better place to live, and to thank my family for all of their patience and support.

“The police officers in this community - not just Urbana but the whole C-U area - are blessed to have the people they have. They’re so committed, professional and willing to go out of their way to help others.”


Source: The (Champaign) News-Gazette, https://bit.ly/2oIRdqd


Information from: The News-Gazette, https://www.news-gazette.com

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