TORRINGTON – When Larry Curtis got his start with the Torrington Police Department, the world was a very different place.
In 1983, the body cameras that have become essential to law enforcement officers were still a few decades away. Body armor was relatively new, but it’s standard issue today. But some things were the same – handcuffs are still handcuffs, and Curtis started working to serve the people of Torrington.
Curtis hung up his duty belt for the last time on May 6. After more than three decades of service and essentially being the face of the department, he’s retiring to spend more time with family and friends.
“I just thought it was a good time,” he said. “I accomplished a lot. I have enjoyed the work and at this point, I just decided I’m old enough now that I can retire.
“I’ve got family and friends I want to connect with and visit more often, and there are other projects I’ve done in the past – I went to Romania a couple of times to do some projects that involved police and teaching, and so my friends and I have discussed doing another of those types of projects.”
And as he moves on to those other projects, TPD Interim Chief Mike Matthews is tasked with trying to replace an officer who has become synonymous with the department in the community.
“I don’t think you do (replace him),” Matthews said. “I don’t think you can.
“Larry wore many hats here, and he wore many of them well. When he was at the college or at the schools, he did a great job. He was a wonderful DARE officer and we’re going to be missing him.”
During his career, Curtis worked in the patrol division, as a detective, became a law enforcement instructor at Eastern Wyoming College and served as a school resource officer and DARE teacher. He even took his experience to Iraq to serve as a police advisor from 2006 to 2008.
It all started because he grew up in a suburb of Chicago, Ill., across the street from the local police station.
“I saw the police officers and the work that they did, and I really came to respect that work,” he said. “It has always been something that is important – whatever job you’re going to have to do, make sure you respect the work.
“I’ve always felt that way about police work, so when I had the opportunity to join the TPD, it was just something I knew was an important job, it was important to the community, and I didn’t want to let the citizens down. I tried to work as hard as I could and have as much trust built up with the community as I could, as well.”
He landed in Torrington after a friend recommended he come for a visit. Another friend suggested he should join up with the TPD, and then he met his eventual wife, Mary – he’s still here.
“I wanted to come out west,” Curtis said. “I had only been here once before. I had a friend living in Torrington, and he said I should come out there and see a different part of the country. I liked it and I stayed. Ultimately, within a short amount of time, I met Mary, who became my wife.”
Mary was crucial to his success, Curtis said. She was there through the high points – like when he graduated from the FBI National Academy – and the low points.
“I want to thank my wife. She has supported me all of the way through,” he said. “It’s one thing to become a police officer, but it’s another thing to be a police officer’s spouse. She deserves all of the credit for the support she has given me over the years. There have been some low moments, but there have been a lot of high points.”
Law enforcement has changed a lot in the time since. Technology has played a big role in that change, but the biggest change, he said, was the rise of the community policing philosophy. It’s placed an emphasis on connecting with the community, Curtis said, and he fit right into it.
“It’s making sure that you have that trust with the citizens that you serve and stay connected with them,” Curtis said. “It isn’t all about arresting people or writing tickets. It’s about connecting with the folks who live here.
“Like when I was the DARE officer – it was teaching about good citizenship, integrity and helping others. That is a crime prevention tool, and that has been important. That emphasis on crime prevention, community, trust, as well as technology, those are the things I have been interested in and I think most of law enforcement has connected to that now.”
The connection to the community is something that set Curtis apart, according to Matthews.
“I think the years Larry had experience-wise with the TPD in the community, and being that face for us and making contact with people in the communities and the businesses,” he said. I think a lot of people know Larry from starting his career here, and then working at the college.”
He’s had an impact on his peers, as well. Matthews said some of his first experiences working with the PD in the early 2000s were working with Curtis, and learning how to be a Torrington police officer.
“When I was a young guy, I remember him and Chief (Billy) Janes coming to get me on the detective ride – Larry was a detective back then,” Matthews said. “That was back in 2001, and I’ve worked with Larry since then. He’s been a great guy, and a great cop for the community and a great DARE officer.
“I remember Larry, when I was a young cop and he was the detective, I was working a case with some stolen jewelry. I remember Larry grabbing me and saying ‘let’s go get the guy.’ Next thing you knew, we had the jewelry back and I was putting handcuffs on the bad guy. Larry has definitely affected my career and the cop that I am today.”
As for Curtis, he said he’ll miss it – but he still expects to be around the law enforcement world, even in retirement.
“I know a lot of folks in Torrington, I’ve made a lot of friends and I’m pretty connected with them,” Curtis said. “I’ll certainly be thinking about law enforcement and the part it has played in my life, but there are a lot of other things to do so I’m not worried about it.”