AP NEWS

Stamford police department celebrates 125th anniversary

May 7, 2019

STAMFORD — While Tuesday is the official opening of the new $43 million Stamford Police Headquarters on Bedford Street, the date also marks the 125th anniversary of the agency housed by the new complex.

On May 7, 1894, there were a little more than 16,000 people living in Stamford when the Stamford Police Department was established to serve them.

On its first day, the department was manned by 23 special officers and nine patrolmen — most of them sporting mustaches and carrying Irish and old Yankee surnames such as McMahon, O’Brien, Lunney, Clarke and Nevins.

A century-and-a-quarter later, there are 281 officers in the department, reflecting the growth of the city itself.

The many HQs

Its first headquarters, established just five days after the department’s founding, was in the Whitney Building at Canal and Atlantic streets. Two years later, the department moved to the Quintard Building in Atlantic Square, according to the Stamford Historical Society.

The police department had many headquarters in its early years, but most have been torn down and built over or have become parking lots. As a result, few clues to their locations remain. One ghost from years past can be seen on Bank Street, on the south side of the Old City Hall, where the word “POLICE” remains carved into the side of the building, showing where the department arrived in 1904.

After that, following the trail of the department’s headquarters gets a little challenging, especially after the Stamford Town Police were established in 1928, when the population began growing well north of the city center.

“The only thing you had up there were cows,” said police Capt. Tom Lombardo, the department’s official historian.

The Town Police, which had a separate chief, moved into the Stamford Rolling Mills property on Hope Street in Springdale in 1928, before moving to the city’s Haig Avenue building in 1940.

Meanwhile, the downtown department, after taking root in the Town Hall basement, was moved to the Safety Center next to the Central Fire House on Main Street, near where a parking lot now sits next to Suburban Avenue.

In 1949, the city and town police merged. And in 1956, they joined together at 805 Bedford Street, where the current department has stood for 63 years.

A long story

The department’s first chief was George Bowman, who was also the fire chief, posts he held until he died of tuberculosis in 1903, said Lombardo who, at 68, is the second-longest serving member in the department.

It is no coincidence that the new building is opening up on the department’s anniversary — Lombardo said he made the suggestion when its completion looked likely for early May.

Throughout his career, Lombardo learned about the department, from many who were there when.

His father, Albert Lombardo, became a police officer in 1950 and worked his way up to acting chief before retiring as a captain in 1976. His Uncle Pete Lombardo was also a policeman, appointed in the early ’40s. When Lombardo got on the job in 1973, there were some old-timers still in uniform.

“Some of those guys, born around 1908 or1910, who were 65 years old, they were day men, and they would talk to the kids sometimes and tell you about things from the 1930s. So I picked up history that way,” Lombardo said.

But word of mouth wasn’t his only method of learning. One day in the late ’70s, someone was cleaning old books out of the basement of police headquarters. Lombardo, who was a sergeant in records at the time, said he couldn’t bear to see them tossed.

“I went home and put on a pair of blue jeans and came back with a stepladder and took about 10 of those binders out of the dumpster,” he said.

Every line of every page in the large binders had beautiful cursive writing, he said. Until then, he had never realized how important it was for a desk sergeant to have legible handwriting.

Early membership in the department was largely Irish. Daniel O’Brien was the first Irish officer to be in 1894, followed by the first officer of Italian descent, Canio “Kelly” Genovese, in 1923. The first Jewish officer hired on was Harold Spelke, whom Lombardo warmly remembers as his crossing guard at Springdale School when he was a kid.

Today, there are 281 officers in a department, including 26 female officers. There are 20 black male officers and three black female officers, 28 Hispanic male officers and six Hispanic female officers, and one Asian male officer, department records show.

James Foreman was the first black officer appointed in 1946, when the official term for his ethnicity was “colored.” Cuban-American Lucas Isidro was the first Hispanic officer in the department; and the first “police woman” was Dorothy Pieczo in 1953. Pieczo died just a few years later, and the next female officer to be hired didn’t come until 24 years later, when Cheryl Listwan signed up in 1977, Lombardo said.

Growing

An addition was put onto the Police Department building at 805 Bedford Street in 1980. Only five officers who predate that project remain on duty.

“I never felt I would be here this long,” Lombardo said with a grin.

On a recent tour, he could not resist walking down to the the records room to point out one of only a few few remaining “Godawful orange” Formica countertops left in the place. He also noted a column still painted with a rather offensive golden yellow paint that was part of the addition.

At the time, the 55,000-square-foot building was given the rather unwieldy title of Department of Police Services City of Stamford, Connecticut. The new 94,000-square-foot structure, at 725 Bedford Street, is simply called Stamford Police Headquarters.

Another of the current officers who entered the department before the 1980 addition is Sgt. Paul Guzda, who remembered the old building as a slice of old-time cop architecture.

“When I think of it, the memory I have is when you walked into the front door, you walked to an elevated window where a desk sergeant sat, looking down at you, like it was a classic 1950s police station,” said Guzda, who is tied with Capt. William Mullin for third-longest active tenure in the department. The two signed up on the same day in August 1973.

Behind the sergeant was a long counter where two or three officers dispatched calls, and behind that was the cell block where prisoners are still kept until the new building opens.

“It was all very compact, but we got by. We made do with what we had,” Guzda said. “When the renovation was done it appeared we had so much more room and it was like we were making great strides forward. I never would have thought we would have outgrown that building at the time.”

jnickerson@stamfordadvocate.com