BRISTOL – Richard Guerrera had mixed emotions about ending a career at the Bristol Police Department that spanned more than two decades, but by making the choice that saw him leave the very department where he started as a patrolman and worked his way up to second-in-command, he was able to answer a lingering question he always had of himself.
“There was always that ‘can I be a chief’ question,” said Guerrera, who retired from Bristol last month to take a job as chief of the Western Connecticut State University Police Department.
For Guerrera, being a chief of his own department was something he thought about, but whether or not it happened was never going to make or break his career aspirations. Leaving Bristol as deputy chief of police to retire outright would have been quite the accomplishment. As thus, there was no job hunt, no searching for open chief positions. Guerrera’s application to be the next chief of WCSU was his first and only attempt to lead his only department.
“It wasn’t something I planned,” Guerrera said. “The opportunity was there. I threw my hat into the ring and it worked out. And I’m glad that it did.”
Over the course of just over 25 years, Guerrera in Bristol held such positions as patrol officer, sergeant, lieutenant, captain and deputy chief. Leaving the city police department where he rose through the ranks carried with it a mix of emotions.
“It was a weird feeling punching out for the last time,” Guerrera said. “It was surreal. Driving home, I thought ‘I’m not a cop in Bristol anymore. I love Bristol. I love that department. But I was also excited to start a new chapter in my life and career.”
So far, that new chapter is going very well. Guerrera said there are a lot of similarities between the WCSU police department and Bristol, but also a world of differences. Community policing is a major goal at both departments.
“This department is doing a lot of the things we did in Bristol,” Guerrera said.
Compared to the city of Bristol, the Western campus is a much smaller area. Crime is very low on campus, and the crime that does occur is generally what one would expect from a college setting, Guerrera said. Dealing with what crime does occur is different at a university than it is on the streets of Bristol.
“It’s more of mentoring, getting kids through college,” Guerrera said. “You’re not looking to ruin a kid’s career. You’re looking to mentor them. In a city like Bristol, the process was different. It was more of an arrest and judicial system kind of thing.”
Guerrera’s former colleagues at the Bristol Police Department had nothing but the best to say about the 25-year veteran and all he accomplished in the city.
“Rich possessed a tremendous amount of police knowledge and experience, and his absence will certainly leave a void within the department,” Bristol police Chief Brian Gould said, adding it was a “privilege” to work with him. “More importantly was the friendship I developed with Rich, and I will miss my daily interactions with him. Professionally, I am thrilled with his accomplishments and he is a welcomed addition to the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association. Western Connecticut State University is fortunate to have him serving as their new police chief and he will be exceptional. Personally, I was sad to see him retire and at the same time very excited to see him off to his new venture. Great things happen to great people and Rich is filled with greatness.”
During their more than two decades working together, Guerrera and now-retired Detective Lt. Kevin Morrell built a trust together that allowed them to effectively work with one another through situations where honesty was needed above all else.
“He is a great person and an excellent police officer,” Morrell said. “He was someone you could always count on and trust. He was a no-nonsense person; you always knew where he stood on something. He did not pull any punches or sugar coat anything – direct and to the point.”
Morrell, who wished the new WCSU chief nothing but the best in his new role, added Guerrera’s retirement is a big loss to the city of Bristol and its police department.
“Rich spent a number of years in a role that was charged with bridging the gap between community and the police department,” said Stephen Tavares, who served as a captain and a deputy chief along with Guerrera before retiring from Bristol last August to become the chief of police at Eastern Connecticut State University. “Rich made it his mission to strengthen the relationship the police department has with the community, and Bristol benefited from his work. One sign of proof of his success was when he was awarded by the Bristol chapter of the Elks with the prestigious Enrique ‘Kiki’ Camarena Salazar Award for his work in relation to illegal drug prevention and enforcement.”
Tavares added, “Rich has put in the work required to become a leader and WCSU will benefit from him being their chief of police. I have the utmost respect for Rich and I'm excited to be able to continue ‘leading’ with him in the Connecticut State University system law enforcement.”
Guerrera built many friendships in Bristol in addition to those with Morrell, Gould and Tavares, all of whom he thanked for their help over the years.
“I miss some of the guys at work, the camaraderie that we shared,” Guerrera said.
But his relationship with Tavares has been unique in that they’ve had an open dialogue about leading a state university police department, with Tavares having a tremendous amount of insight, having made a similar move last August.
“He’s definitely been a big help for me,” Guerrera said of Tavares. “I’ve relied on him a lot.”
Guerrera said he has also relied on his family a lot for not only their support during his time in Bristol, but also for their encouragement to answer that lingering question he had as to whether or not he has what it takes to lead his own department. Over the course of 25 years, he said he has missed a lot of time with family, including many weekends, holidays, sporting events and other extracurricular activities.
“I really thank them for being there for me in Bristol,” Guerrera said of his wife and two daughters. “They really encouraged me to do it. None of them said ‘why do you want to do it?’ or ‘don’t do it.’ I want to thank them for their support.”
Justin Muszynski can be reached at 860-973-1809 or email@example.com.