Officer Christopher Sorrell Interview
This is file #30, cycle 3. This is Jean McMillen. Today’s date is April 11, 2018. I am interviewing Resident State Trooper Christopher Sorrell who is going to talk about his career in police work, his antecedents who were in police work and anything else he wants to discuss. First we will start with his grandfather.
JM: Did your grandfather come from Ireland?
CS:It was actually my great grandfather. He emigrated from Ireland. On his immigration papers he was listed as a cop, a constable. A constable being a law enforce emit official. I have pictures of him and my great uncle along with others who were also in law enforcement in Berkshire Country, Massachusetts.
JM:You have Uncle Timothy?
CS:That is my brother. He is the chief of Police in Lanesborough, Mass.
JM:I have a friend who had many compliments for him.
JM:Did you go into the Marines after school?
CS:I graduated from high school in 1990. I was born and raised in Berkshire country, Mass. I did 2 years of Community College and after that I went into the Marine Corp from 1990- 1999.
JM:Where were you stationed?
CS:In Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and Okinawa, Japan
JM:What special training did you have?
CS:I was military police corrections officer. I worked in a military prison.
JM:As a police guard?
CS:Yes we were considered correctional specialist officers. My job was to work within the correctional facility. Camp Lejeune was one of the biggest military bases so we had about 300 personal prisoners at any one time. We had people that were with minor offenses, military offenses up to homicides and murders. I worked in all different aspects within the squad base meaning large rooms where they are housed en mass to special quarters which were individual cells that were utilized for people because of the seriousness of their crime or for punishment reasons. They were placed in segregation cells. Part of the time the last year and one half I spend in the correctional and custody unit which was separate from the brig. When I was there it was to take young Marines and sailors that had gotten in trouble and we would re-motivate them through the means of putting them back in boot camp. We ran officer training with them. They lived on the squad base. They worked during the day and we taught classes at night. It was to re-motivate these young Marines and sailors and get them back into
the Marine Corps or Navy and be successful, and successfully complete their enlistment time. It was up to thirty days they were in house with us. We literally broke large rocks into small rocks with sledgehammers during that time. It was very effective.
JM:Offhand would you know the percentage of success that you had with this program?
CS:That program based on a study at one point in time was around 70 to 80%.
JM:That is a very good percentage.
CS:It is very high. It was a very effective program. It was advertised heavily and very effective. We held 40 men at a time for 30 days, and we oftentimes had a waiting list. They would come from as far away as Norfolk, Virginia and Quantico and other bases pretty far away. They would come to us from a couple of hundred miles away.
JM:That is very exciting. After you left the military you went into police training when?
CS:I came right from the Military. While I was in the Marine Corps I processed for the Connecticut State Police. I was then accepted, but I missed one class because of military obligations. I was able to get out of the military early on my second enlistment and was able to go police academy in December of 1999. The Academy was has held at Mansfield, Ct. as part of a middle security prison which we had taken over to offer academy training.
JM:Did you go into law enforcement because of your family background?
CS:I think I always had an interest in it. From the age of 14 I was in the Explorer Program which is like a Police Cadet Program, so from the age of 14 I have been involved with that in the town of Lenox, Massachusetts. During that program I was exposed to law enforcement. I went to the Academy every year for a week and worked with the police officers at that time. From that I worked part time through the summers at as a Traffic Control Officer on Stockbridge Main Street with the summer influx of tourists. I did that for three of four summers of writing parking tickets and directing traffic during the summer. I also did the Tanglewood concerts at Lenox, Mass. Then I went into the Marine Corps. My ultimate goal was to be in law enforcement.
JM:The academy course that you took at Mansfield, how long did that last?
CS:The academy is 27 weeks, so roughly 7 months. You had to shave your head bald. It is very military. Academically is very heavy also. You are taking in people some who have had law enforcement experience and some who have not. The program was set up so that we learned everything that we needed to know. At the end when you successfully completed the course, you graduated and received your badge. Then you go on to field training which lasts for30 working days after the academy.
JM:I notice you have a shoulder patch with crossed pistols?
CS:That is a TFC badge which means Trooper First class. When you graduate from the academy, you are still considered a trooper in training while you are doing your field training. Once you graduate from field training program, then you are totally on your own; you are off and running by yourself, and in a sense holding off the sharks. After 7 years of being a trooper then you are automatically promoted to the rank of Trooper First Class. It is more of timing in service; all it means is that you have put in 7 years as a trooper. No extra pay however. For us a promotion begins as a supervisory role, the role of a sergeant. You have to pass a tough test both oral and written and do a resume. You are grades on all that and ranked by points. They start from the top of the list to fill open slots.
JM:That is a lot more to it than most people realize.
JM:There is. To become a resident trooper or enter a specialized unit, there is an application process. I had canine for 5 years. With the canine besides doing the oral interview you also did a physical test to make sure you had the physical fitness. Other positions other than being on the road, if you want to do something different, like narcotics, there is usually some kind of criteria and testing process that you must go through in order to get the best person for the position that is open.
JM:They really have to match. When did you join Troop B?
CS:I came out of the Academy and went right into Troop B. so that would be roughly June, 2000. When I first came to Troop B, there was a junior guy meaning that you get all the left-overs, the things that nobody else wants. It goes by seniority; the senior guys pick where they want to go and what they want to do. The trooper on the desk is usually the most senior, generally speaking. They are the ones who are fielding the calls along with the dispatcher. They are deciding whom to send where. There are criteria in place as far as organization; there are certain times you are assigned to patrol. Troop B does clarify coverage for 13 towns and is roughly 500 square miles. It covered the town of North Canaan, Canaan, Salisbury, Goshen, Cornwall, Sharon, Colebrook, Norfolk, Barkhamsted, Hartland, Winsted and Torrington have state properties we also cover.
CS:Kent is in Troop L.
JM:I was thinking of Regional District #1.
JM:How long did you stay in Troop B before applying for Resident State Trooper here in Salisbury?
CS:As far as my tenure at Troop B, I was assigned to Troop B with a Canine. Then I was assigned to the Western District Major Crime Unit as a detective so for that time period of 2 years technically you are not considered part of the barracks; you are considered part of the Western District which covers from Bridgeport all the way up to Canaan. That is the whole western corridor of the state. The state police split the state into thirds. There is the western district, the central district is the center of the state, the Connecticut River valley and the Easter District is the far east third of the state. Western
District Major Crime covered everything from Bridgeport up to Canaan and you worked out of your office. My office was still assigned to B. When I came back from that I was a year at the high school as a Resource Officer. As far as my career goes, part of my decision making process was that there was something I wanted to try and seemed to enjoy the program as a trooper and at the same time the barracks was going through a reorganization and consolidation. So there was some fear of the unknown there that we did not know what was going to happen. If you were assigned to Troop L in Litchfield and did your work in Salisbury, we had no idea what would happen. I saw the way to control my destiny and control what was going to happen to me. If I am trooper for Salisbury I can stay in Salisbury and not worry about all this stuff that was going on.
CS:The consolidation of the barracks was something that had been tried in the 1970s; they tried it for a period of time. I think it was less than a year but it failed. It was the same kind of thing they put back in place with technology, saying that it would work which it did not. So we went back to the system we had used before.
JM:In order to become Resident Trooper, what is the process?
CS:Once the position had opened up, after Mark Laurentano decided to retire, they put in a temporary Resident Troop in here Dave Collins. When that opened up there is a period of time where people can apply for the position. You put in a resume, your work packet, a couple copies of your reports that you had written, you skill sets for the jobs assigned to you, then depending on how many people apply for the opening, you go through an interview. Once the interviews are completed, then they choose the trooper they think will best fit the position. They take from the top of the pile first, the cream of the crop
CS:Thank you. Then you are assigned and transferred to that position.
JM:Do you enjoy being Resident Trooper in Salisbury?
CS:I do. I do enjoy it, but it is a lot of work. I don’t think people realize how much is involved with the community and you have to be a jack-of-all-trades. Everyone who has a situation or event from their point of view is a major event from something very minor to a major event. They want to have it addressed or talked to or resolved in some way. You find yourself dealing with multiple issues; and some that are not really police based. I try to point them down the right path. Things that are police related are definitely dealt with.
JM;One of my goal with this oral history is for the interviewees to explain how complicated their jobs are so people are aware of all of the effort that goes into whatever it is that they are doing,
whether it is tax collecting, resident trooper or anything. Nobody realized how much work goes into something until they do it for themselves.
JM:Do you off-hand know when the Resident Trooper program began in Salisbury?
CS:I can tell you within the state. In Salisbury we are thinking it started in Nov. 1, 1957, with Stanley Szczieul. The program for the state started in 1947 in Canton. The State Police were formed in 1903. At that time as a Resident Trooper you had to live in the town, you had to have a sign in front of your house, he had to have a phone with the public and you had to have an office in your home. They had a $50 stipend a month to offset the cost of those expenses. The program morphed and there is a Resident Trooper stipend still, but I don’t have to live in town, I don’t have to have people going to my house and knocking at my door, or calling my house.
JM:You were a Resource Officer at the high school? (SRO)
JM:How many years.
CS:For one year 2008 to 2009.
JM:What were your responsibilities?
CS:In the high school you are assigned as the School Resource Officer to assist the administration, with addressing any issues in the school. Not so much with dealing with kids in the hall, but it was more disruptive kids in school to the point where it is becoming a problem. I would address that accordingly, by talking to them. Also at that time there were many changes is obtaining driver licenses where there were restrictions on the junior operators, the ones who were 16 or 17, had all this information about what restrictions were now in place. A lot of my time was spent letting the student know what the rules were so that they would keep themselves out of trouble. I also gave classes and assisted in classes when it came to law enforcement matters and some of the laws. We did some other events in the school to help kids better understand what law enforcement is about. It was busy; you don’t realized how busy it can be until you get there and start dealing with it. For the most part it was very positive; a lot of the staff was very happy with the program once we had it in place. The students were very happy with it.
JM:Were you ever in the elementary schools?
CS:During that time no, while SRO I was just at the high school Monday through Friday while classes were going on. My hours were the same as I came on duty before school started and they ended later than the school day. Just like in any other school you are trying to address the issues going on and there are always on-going issues, social issues which you can address plus any disruptive activity which you also address. It was very busy and there always seems to be something. At the time the Vice Principal
was Mary Ann Buchanan and the Principal was Gretchen Foster. I think they had a good handle and knowledge of what was going on with the school, what student were doing what, who was handing out with whom. It was very informative. We tried to address the issues before they became huge events. We tried to monitor school event where student might be put in a troublesome situation.
JM:How about monitoring proms? Were you on duty for that?
CS:I am trying to think how we did that. I know I did the sporting events. I remember doing basketball games, hockey games and stuff like that. The way it worked out for us was that one was assigned to the school and did any afterschool activities they wanted law enforcement agents at so that is what I did. I can’t remember off the top of my head whether I did the prom or not.
JM:How has school security changed over the years, particularly since Sandy Hook?
CS:I would say that for law enforcement purposes and a lot of the schools, Columbine was a big event in the late 1990s. After that the schools really started looking at the threat of an active shooter. A lot of the school updated their security. There are schools locally that chose not to do much of anything because the mentality was “It can’t happen here.” Fast forward to Sandy Hook and then there is a huge issue of security. Many schools now use only one access door to enter the building; there was a scramble to change their ways. It was a huge change for school security. There was also a large influx of SRO in schools. The program for the state police and specifically for Region #1 was stopped prior to Sandy Hook and that was because the federal grant ran out and was not renewed. The people in command saw the troopers in the schools and felt they needed more troopers on the road so they were reassigned. That is how Region #1 lost their trooper. Now Region #1 has to pay the state in order to have a trooper in the school. For Connecticut Sandy Hook was the third national event. We had the Connecticut Lottery shooting which occurred before I came on, the beer distributor shooting out of Hartford, and then Sandy Hook. Connecticut has been struck by this on occasion, and backing up further the 911 attack, the first 911 attack with the truck bomb. Those individuals actually trained in Connecticut how to set off explosives, prior to trying to take down the World Trade Center with a truck bomb. We are unfortunately stuck between two major cities Boston and New York.
JM:As Resident trooper do you take care of all Salisbury?
CS:Yep, whether it is Taconic, Amesville, Lime Rock for state purposes it is just all Salisbury.
JM:How about Mt. Riga?
CS:Yes. ? I care for anything within the borders of Salisbury.
JM:How big an area is Salisbury?
CS:Total in square miles is 60.65 square miles and 86 miles of roadway, 52 of those are town owned. The population is 3,741 in 2010.
JM:It is a big area.7.
JM:I asked you about a job description and you just threw up your hands, rolled your eyes and said “But I do everything” which is a pretty good description.
CS:Ultimately yeah you have to be always open to anything. Today I had a 911 call with a person who got locked out of her house and could not figure out how to get back in.
JM:You break a window.
CS:It was easier than that. It was a rental property. They are from China and they had locked the door and could not get the key to work in the door they had locked. I took the key, tried some windows, and tried the back door with the key. The key worked for that. That was the resolution.
CS:It is not uncommon for us to have to try to force entry to their homes. You get a call and you never know. Somebody broke into their house and stole items. At other times you get calls for things and you get there thinking, “How can I resolve this the best way possible?”
JM:You have to be very creative and flexible.
CS:Yes. She even tried to give me a tip which I explained that we are law enforcement and don’t accept tips. In her country they do. Sometimes it is educating people. We have had a bank robbery, motor vehicle accidents: we have had home invasions, burglaries, larceny so it is a whole gamut of thing. Some people have a peeve and get very upset about the large trucks which rumble through town, but you can’t stop a truck on a state highway. We try to appease everybody.
JM:It is a hard job.
CS:It is. You try to along with everything else that is going on keep people happy. Twin Lakes in the summertime we do have three marine constables who work under me. They are all certified police officers. We have a police boat on Twin Lakes; they go on patrol mainly on the weekends. Their job is to enforce the boating laws, much like motor vehicle officers. If you violate the boating laws, you may get a warning or you may receive a ticket for the infraction. Their job is to make sure the boaters was acting in a safe responsible fashion.
JM:Howard O’Dell used to do that.
CS:He was originally a constable. When I took over he already had some limited powers which he had at that point. He was a lake auxiliary officer. The DEP had statutes that allowed him to go out on the lake and enforce the boating laws. It is weird in a way because it talked about enforcing stolen boat motors, or motor boats. It was very odd. He did that until he suffered a mild stroke. I think I had him in
a motor vehicle accident. That is when I saw the obvious signs of the stroke. I hired two more o retired police officers to come on marine patrol. They have a full staff to try to cover Twin Lakes.
JM:Do you do that same for Lake Wononscopomuc?
CS:No that lake is restricted about the horsepower. It is controlled by the boat launch and the Grove itself. Twin Lakes is open so you have up to 35 mph for water skiing. There is a speed limit. Long Pond has no speed limit; so if you go on Long Pond, and take a boat over there, you can go over 35 mph. We don’t patrol that. Our boat is housed at Twin Lakes.
JM:Then you wouldn’t do Riga Lake either.
CS:No they do their own. Danny Brazee is the park ranger now, young Danny. He is up there.
JM:As Resident Trooper how long can you stay? Are there term limits?
CS:No I can stay until I retire here or I can pull the plug and go one day. Worst case scenario the town is unhappy with what I was doing, they can eliminate the program altogether or they could just say, “Would you leave.” If the Resident Trooper does not get along with the town fathers, that would not be a good mix. Ultimately I can stay until I decide to leave for personal reasons.
JM:Are you accountable to the Selectmen?
CS:Yes and no. Ultimately my chain of command is through the barracks Troop B. I also try to talk to the selectmen at least once a day to find out what is going on and the issues he wants to address. There is a give and take. He is not technically in charge of me, but I am independent from the barracks. For example people complain about the cross walk violations, speeding vehicles so that I make it a point to go out there and be visible to slow people down and make them aware of what is going on. There are issues which need addressing. If he has a question about legality, I try to help and address that issue. I am here because the town wants me here in order to help the town out. No matter how you cut it, you have to be personable and approachable to people. Now it also depends on the cost of the program.
JM:Things have changed. I asked you before how crime is solved best by technology or by old fashioned talking to people.
CS:The old fashioned talking to people, shoe leather that is what it comes down to. Historically the barracks has a chef and auto mechanic and everything was out of the barracks, to this day we still have roll call. At the beginning of your shift you go to the barracks and you sit at the kitchen table early and you talk about what is going on in the area. We had a situation one time I had a case and another trooper has a case similar to me and we talked it over, and decided that the two cases were related so we solved it by talking together. Once again we quickly solved the case right there. Over the years in the past there have been cases where talking to a neighbor, someone’s house gets broken into and you go talk to all the neighbors. They may see an unusual incident. On more than one occasions I have had
where the neighbors have seen something that helped solve the case. He saw somebody walking, but that seemed odd. A vehicle drove passed, I did not think much about it at the time. I believe that that is the way to solve crimes. The technology is there, but people know about wearing socks over their hands to prevent fingerprints. A DNA test is very expensive and if you do not have that DNA in the data base, that does not help. It has to be matched with something in the data base. I still definitely believe in talking to people. In a town like this you kind of know who is doing what so when something happens, you have an idea where to look. I believe in old fashioned police work. I talk to other departments as well. The borders here are just lines on a map so I talk to other law enforcement departments in other states. Once in a while we have meeting where we all get together and just talk. All of a sudden it is, “Wait a minute that connects with something I need.”
JM;I am very impressed that you still want to talk to people rather than relying solely on technology.
CS:People speak up and they may not know what it is, but it is not normal for the situation. You see drug dealing going on. They see the car: they see it stop for a minute or two at a house. They see it leave. That is odd behavior. They see it in a parking lot. It does not feel right. What you saw was probably a transaction of narcotics. That has come in handy to give me information like that. When the vehicle was described to me. I knew immediately who it was. In a period after that, we stopped over 100 bags of heroine. Hey, I saw this. It did not seem right; I just wanted to let you know.
JM:What do you like best about your job?
CS:For me I like to solve the case. If something is taken or something happens, you can’t make it right necessarily, but you can make it right or fill in the gaps by arresting the person who is responsible and closing the case out. As you are aware if your house is broken into, it is very personal. To me I get that case and I solve it. Sometimes you get the items back, sometimes not but the person is whole again. Something has been done to make them feel better. You can put the pieces back together again. I want to make things right for them as best I can. I look at the case as if it happened to a family member. As a Resident Trooper you take it very personally.
JM;It is your town. You have to protect your town.
CS:Right, you feel, “Hey I have to go above and beyond. I really want to solve the crime and make my people feel whole again.” It is frustrating at times if I cannot solve the case. I do not have 100% solving rate, but if you look at the statistics of burglaries, nationwide it is probably 20% solved rate. A trooper town our solving rate is 80%. We work together well. One of the troopers who retired recently from North Kent had a series of 20 houses broken into. We were able to arrest both men responsible. That is a huge case to solve. We got some stuff back, and some was gone. You go to Waterbury to the pawn shops and come back with a bag of stolen items. It does make some folks feel better to get their stuff back.
JM:Before we close is there anything you would like to add that I haven’t covered?10.
CS:We talked about the Resident Trooper Program here in Salisbury and I want to recognize the men who served here as Resident Troopers. I have a list here. I ran into Charlie Oulette today. Some of the trooper names that we had: The first one was Stanley Szczieul in 1957, Bob Smithwick who has also passed away, Charlie Oulette; he works the weed harvester now: he did about 12 years here. Then he was injured. Dean Hammond was also here. Lonnie Moe, he was a short termer; he just retired about roughly 40 years of being a trooper. Mark Lauretano, Jim Bettini was a fill-in. Mark went back into the Marine Corps. He was here when Mark had left. Then came John Sipper, Patrick Malloy, back to Mark Lauretano again for a second term. Dave Collins was here temporarily after Mark retired. Then I came here in 2011.
JM:Wonderful! Thank you so very much.
CS:You are welcome.