REDDING Retired chief reflects on career
REDDING — One night about 20 years ago, Doug Fuchs, then with the Ridgefield Police Department, noticed a car driving erratically.
“I originally stopped it for a moving violation, but knew it was more,” said Fuchs, who resigned as Redding’s police chief July 1 so he could retire from law enforcement. “Something just didn’t appear right.”
He and the other officers soon discovered two of the passengers were students at Western Connecticut State University who were drinking at a bar and decided it was a better idea to hitchhike home than drive drunk.
A few younger men had picked them up and robbed them at knifepoint.
“They were being kidnapped and on their way to Bridgeport to withdraw from an ATM,” Fuchs said.
That was the first time he got flowers for his work on a case.
But his career, wasn’t all highlights.
He retired last weekend as an investigation into how he handled a suicide in 2016 winds down. Relatives of suicide victim Peter Valenti claim in a lawsuit that his life could have been saved if responding officers had checked his vital signs upon arriving at his home.
Fuchs was placed on leave in October.
Fuchs said he might still be retiring now, even if the investigation wasn’t happening. He had always planned to retire from law enforcement by the time he was 55. He’s 52.
“After 30 years, it’s time,” he said. “I had long discussions with my wife about it. I think the time is right.”
There to help
Fuchs joined the department in 2002, making him Redding’s first police chief. Prior to that he served in Ridgefield, beginning in 1990 and leaving as a lieutenant. He started his career in Massachusetts in 1986.
He said it’s rare for a chief to stay with a department as long as he did. In his 16 years with a department, Wilton is on their fourth chief, Easton’s had three and Ridgefield has had two. Danbury also has had two or three different chiefs.
Fuchs said being a chief is a 24/7 job, with calls coming in the middle of the night.
“You won’t miss it, but you also don’t mind it,” he said. “There’s a reason someone’s waking you up at 3 a.m. — someone needs help.”
It’s that desire to help that is the hardest thing about leaving law enforcement, he said.
“What I’ll miss the most about law enforcement is being able to make a difference in people’s lives,” he said.
One call that stands out came in the 1990s when he was still in Ridgefield. He just got off the midnight shift and heard that a skater fell through the ice near the Fox Hill Condos. He was in the area and arrived first to see a man up to his chest in the freezing water.
Fuchs grabbed a life ring from his cruiser, took off his gun belt and threw the ring to the man. Fuchs and another person then pulled the man to safety.
The fire department arrived shortly after, ready to use their ice equipment, only to find the man safe with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders.
Another time he took a ribbing from a fire department came early in his career in Redding. He arrived at a house fire on Mark Twain Lane.
“When they got there I was sitting on the ground in the back of the house trying to put out the fire with a garden hose,” he said.
Keeping schools safe
He said he’ll also miss how well law enforcement works together.
“If you put three police officers in a room and give them a problem, they will solve it regardless of what their patch says, their rank or what country they’re from,” Fuchs said.
This was seen at both the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 and the shooting at Sandy Hook. Officers from all over, including him, went to New York city following the attack to assist. They covered the streets and told the NYPD they “got this” helping until the department was ready to take it back over, Fuchs said.
The same thing happened 11 years later in Newtown.
One of the things he’s most proud of in Redding is how he and the staff transitioned from the state trooper model into an accredited department. They updated an antiquated radio system, dispatch center and tower. They also instituted a rank structure and put computers and license plate readers in every car.
He said communications supervisor Steve Schnell was invaluable on the technology pieces.
“I’m proud of what we as a collective have done,” Fuchs said.
He’s also proud of the work the department did with the schools to improve safety and will miss that relationship.
When he first introduced himself at the schools, he was asked to sign in as a visitor. Now there’s a mutual respect between the department and school staff for each others roles and responsibilities.
“That was a dramatic shift from when I got first got there,” Fuchs said.
Superintendent of Schools Thomas McMorran said Fuchs has always been a source of good advice for him personally, as well as a staunch advocate for school safety, especially after Sandy Hook.
“For my eleven years as a school administrator in Redding, I have always found Chief Fuchs to be a person eager to collaborate for the safety of our children,” McMorran said. “His attention to detail, support, and knowledge of best practice has helped our schools to be safe places for our children and the staff.”
McMorran added Fuchs always thought about the people involved.
“Chief Fuchs never forgot to think about teenagers who found themselves in trouble as children first and transgressors second,” McMorran said. “He strove to be fair and to ensure the police department and the school districts were each properly represented.”