Chief Rovella before our walk through Bushnell Park several years ago
Many people were probably skeptical when Rovella was brought back to take the reins as Chief of the Hartford Police Department several years ago. It was during a very violent time in Hartford and crime was heading quickly toward being out of control. Now keep in mind, Rovella had retired years earlier from HPD at the rank of detective. From what I am told by many, Rovella had a reputation throughout new England as being one of the best homicide detectives in the business when he retired.
Again , as the story goes, after his retirement from HPD Rovella went to the State's Attorney Office as an Inspector and eventually rose to the rank of Chief Inspector, supervising the other Inspector's in the States Attorney's Office. As crime continued out of control, especially with shootings, gun violence and homicides, Rovella's boss at the time, Chief States Attorney Kevin Kane was summoned to Governor Malloy's Office for a meeting.
The version I have been told by several people that were also in attendance at that meeting were that Governor Malloy's orders to State Attorney Kane were simple. "Do something about the crime in Hartford".
Doing something eventually resulted in Jim Rovella's return to Hartford. Rovella's ideas gave birth to what eventually became known as the "Shooting Task Force" . STF as it was called had huge results right from the start and began taking guns and violent criminals off the street almost immediately. STF was a combined effort brought together under Rovella's guidance of numerous agencies, including State Federal and several local municipalities surrounding Hartford.
Unlike typical operations, it included agencies such as Probation and Parole, Corrections and even a Prosecutor from the Court to oversee arrests..
That is where I first met Jim Rovella. On a Good Friday evening shortly after the STF inception, I was given permission to go inside STF to put together a public access program about STF. I was meeting with the HPD Lieutenant who was supervising STF operations. At the time, one of the worst kept secrets was that STF was headquartered in an old school and all operations were being run out of there. It wasn't prime office space, but the building had heat and lights and was available.
As I was meeting with the HPD Lieutenant getting my explanation about STF, this guy walked in that I have never met before. I am not sure how to describe it , but he had a command presence and everyone in the room seemed to come to attention . It turned out that guy was Jim Rovella.. Like a proud father showing off his new baby, he walked me around explaining how and why STF was producing solid results
I remember going to the back hall that was pretty much off limits to public view. On the full length of the hallway were 8 1/2" by 11" full size color mugshots of criminals with arrows and notes connecting them to each other basically forming the nexus of Hartford's violent crime problem. It mad sense and under Jim Rovella's guidance it worked.
Eventually, when the spot became open, Jim Rovella was brought back as Hartford's Police Chief and continued producing results. After he became Chief, Rovella asked me to meet him back at the spot we first met, the School housing the STF Operations. Chief Rovella walked me through the old scholl and explained to me his vision for the dilapidated building. It was going to continue to house the HPD Police Academy, but Rovella also had visions for re-starting the PAL Program to get an early start for working with Hartford youth
Much like STF, the PAL program was re-constituted under Chief Rovella's guidance and is producing huge results across the City.
Unfortunately, despite Rovella's numerous requests to City Hall, staffing levels continued to drop to dangerous , unmanageable levels and City Hall refused to hire new officers.
Rather than accept defeat, Rovella relied on technology and kept HPD moving forward with creative innovations and the old saying "doing more with less". Under Chief Rovella's leadedrship, "C4" was born. C4, the Capitol City Crime Center is a state of the art network of cameras and fiber optic network linking video cameras across the City to HPD for viewing . The network has already produced impressive results in monitoring Hartford for crime and traffic issues.
Rovella was creative in his vision to keep HPD productive though technology , but he also realized that nothing can beat the personal relationships that come from Community Policing. Rovella struggled to keep the Community Policing program intact, especially after it was recognized by the White House. Despite that recognition, the reality of staffing levels resulted in some of those initiatives being scaled back, but Jim Rovella was and is always a welcome addition to Community meetings across the City ( also his wife Sandy is a familiar face at community events)
Although some may say that Jim Rovella was "just a detective" when he originally left HPD, but I do know others who tested well and moved up higher, but the could never hold a candle to Jim Rovella and his leadership. Chief, soon to be Commissioner, Rovella clearly knows what he is doing when it comes to law enforcement management and I think the results he produced during his tenure as Hartford's Chief ,proves that. I hate to think what might have happened without Jim Rovella as Chief and how many other people could have held the operation together under the adverse budget and staffing conditions he faced.
I could go on with more Chief Rovella stories and things he personally taught me and how he tried to teat every officer as his own kids, but I've rattled on enough. Suffice it to say, Governor -elect Lamont made a very wise choice by nominating Jim Rovella for this next chapter in his life.