When it’s fun to see a police cruiser coming at you

March 26, 2019

I had forgotten, until I happened upon it Sunday, how much fun the Mystic Irish Parade can be.

Indeed, what a wonderful celebration of life in eastern Connecticut, a rolling showcase of so much of what the region can be so proud of, from schools’ many accomplished marching bands and winning sports teams to the police and fire departments that keep us safe.

Who knew there were so many bagpipers within a day’s drive from Mystic?

Some of my favorite parade delegates were in the handsome pack of carefully groomed Irish setters and the representatives of the Mystic and Noank Library, who pushed a small fleet of rolling book carts all through Mystic.

My favorite car was a baby blue 1966 Ford police interceptor, driven by retired state police Trooper Nick Leary, in full uniform, who was following walking members of the Irish Coastal Club of Westerly.

The police car actually brought the parade briefly to a halt, when it stalled. But after a few minutes of cranking, Leary brought the Ford roaring back to life, and what was probably a rare sight for all of us, a disabled cruiser, disappeared, followed by more bagpipers.

I couldn’t resist learning more about the antique cruiser and tracked down Jerry Longo, president of the Connecticut Police Academy Alumni Association, which, he told me, cares for a nostalgic fleet of seven cars, one truck and one motorcycle, representing period police vehicles from as long ago as 1941.

The association, which includes retired troopers as well as other associate members, state police employees and volunteers, has run a museum of police memorabilia in Meriden since 2012. It is open and free to the public Friday and Saturday afternoons, and other times by appointment for tour groups.

I got the sense from chatting by phone with retired Sgt. Longo — he was in a car, because he likes to take to the road to think — that the care of the fleet of antique police vehicles is an especially rewarding exercise for association members.

As Longo noted in our conversation, troopers spend a lot of work time in their cars. Today, they even drive them home.

“When you roll around for 20 some odd years, it’s like your office, your home away from home,” he said. “It’s like part of your family. It’s your baby. You don’t own it, but you wash it, take care of it.”

The nonprofit alumni association, which operates on dues and fundraisers, with no public money, owns two of the vehicles in its nostalgia fleet. The others are generally privately owned by members. There is a crew that gets together to take care of them. 

Not all the cars were in service in Connecticut but they have all been restored to accurately reflect what they would have looked like while patrolling Connecticut roads, right down to the spinning lights and where the police radio microphone hangs on the dashboard.

The vehicles do a lot of parades. They also have been called into service for funerals and weddings, when state police and their families want a special symbol.

One of the next cars to join the fleet, Longo said, might be a Crown Victoria, which Ford will no longer make as a police cruiser. There is a lot of nostalgia among retired troopers for the Crown Vic, which has been replaced by a Taurus cruiser.

The 1966 Ford only recently joined the fleet and made its debut representing the alumni association in Mystic on Sunday.

Longo said Leary was a bit chagrined when it stalled. But the association pit crew is considering some fixes, like changes to the carburetor.

Of course, police interceptors were made to get up on the highway and gallop after the bad guys.

“Parades are really hard on a car, with all that stop and go,” Longo said. “They want to get up and run.”

This is the opinion of David Collins.