War, law school and New Canaan: Leon Krolikowski's rise through the NCPD
Leon Krolikowski moves with efficiency.
Monday morning the new chief of the New Canaan Police Department strode into the modestly-furnished boardroom adjacent to his office, pulled out a chair, and sat down, straight-backed and hands clasped in front of him on the table, ready to answer any questions.
He didn't move too fast, so that you'd think he was in a hurry, but there was no wasted motion or time. Between night school, a law practice and a family, wasted time in not on Krolikowski's itinerary.
On Sept. 19, the New Canaan Police Commission announced interim chief Krolikowski, a 24-year veteran of the New Canaan force, as the new head of the department.
Krolikowski steps into a department in some disarray. The former chief, Ed Nadriczny, retired in June. Kroliokowski's counterpart as captain, David Bender, resigned last month, leaving the force with no captains. Lt. Fred Pickering was recently issued a 10-day unpaid suspension for his role in an altercation at a New Canaan bar with a 23-year-old. Pickering had been on paid leave for six months during the investigation, and is now appealing the discipline. Krolikowski was in charge of the investigation as a captain, and as interim chief, in charge of discipline.
"To some degree, a lot of the problems over the years have been due to (a lack of) communication and effective decision making," Krolikowski said in an interview Monday. "We used to have monthly staff meetings that weren't as productive as they could've been. At the beginning of the week, I'll send an email to everyone in the department saying what we're working on. It's going to take time to get us back on track but I'm confident I'll be able to do that along with new captains. We'll have a new leadership in place."
Krolikowski appointed Vincent DeMaio as an acting captain earlier in the week, and said he plans to make two full-time promotions by the end of October.
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Krolikowski is a native to the region. He was born in Bridgeport, where his family lived until he was 8 years old. They moved to Stratford, and Krolikowski attended Fairfield College Preparatory School for high school. His father did a stint in the Marines and worked in the U.S. Post Office and in various manufacturing jobs in the area. His mother worked as a secretary for the Avco Lycoming Turbine Engine Division in Stratford.
Krolikowksi has had an affinity toward those in uniform from a young age. As a kid he dressed up in army clothes for Halloween. After high school, he enrolled in Southern Connecticut State University, but stayed for only a year. He enrolled in the Marine Reserve Corps. because he wanted to challenge himself, he said. Boot camp was conducted at the Marine base in Quantico, Va.
Marine boot camp was a shock, he recalled.
"What did I get myself into?" Krolikowski remembered asking himself. "But once you get into a routine and you figure out what you have to do, you get more comfortable."
When he completed boot camp, he returned to Southern Connecticut State in 1987, but was drawn away again when he saw an ad in the newspaper for a position as an officer in the New Canaan Police Department. Krolikowski said he'd been looking for a job as a police officer because the work was physical and changed everyday, as opposed to an office job where he'd sit motionless at the same desk each day.
Though he grew up less than 25 miles away, he didn't know where New Canaan was. "I didn't know New Canaan existed and I had to get directions here," he said. "It was the first and only police test I took and I was hired in 1989."
The hiring officer at the time was a young Nadriczny, also on his way climbing up the rungs of the department's ladder.
But greater forces had another idea. On Aug. 2, 1990, just months into Krolikowski's career in New Canaan, Iraq, under then-President Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait. In January 1991, Krolikowski was deployed with his Marine Corps reserve unit. In preparation, a commanding officer instructed the unit that it expected casualties of up to 80 percent, due to Hussein's military buildup, Krolikowski recalled.
"We were all young and ready to fight, but once they said that, we were all chilled a little bit," he said.
His unit was stationed in Saudi Arabia, close to the Kuwait border. "It was a great success and over much faster than everyone expected. (The Iraqis) didn't fight too much and we were able to liberate Kuwait."
He was home from Operation Desert Storm by June 1991.
Back in New Canaan, the day's tasks were more relaxed than they were in the Persian Gulf. In the early 1990s, he said, New Canaan had a much more active bar scene than it does now, with out-of-towners coming for the nightlife. Drunken driving was a big problem, and the police went about cracking down. Some weekends, he said, the police were making two arrests a night for drunken driving. It is now much less of a problem, he said.
In winter 1993, Krolikowski came upon the most unusual arrest of his career. One night just as it was starting to snow, he pulled over a van for driving without a headlight. When he approached the car, he found that the male driver was wearing women's clothes.
"He took off and almost ran me over," Krolikowski said. "I pursued him through the center of town up into New York, where he crashed. I pulled behind him and pulled him out and he was completely naked. He liked to snort cocaine and take his clothes off. We arrested him for a number of charges."
Krolikowski also met his wife, Anna, in his early years on the force. In 1991, Anna Valente, who was born and raised in New Canaan, was a volunteer member of the New Canaan Ambulance Corps. One of the calls that year was for a priest who was going into cardiac arrest. Anna and Krolikowski met on the call and began dating afterward. They now have three children: Morgan, 17; Kelsey, 15; and Ryan, 12, all of whom attend New Canaan public schools.
In 1994, Krolikowski began what would be a long process of schooling. He went to night school at the University of Connecticut-Storrs to earn the undergraduate degree he never finished. Krolikowksi said he loved going back to school.
"At times it was difficult but it's something you can push through and get done. I enjoyed going to classes and interacting with different people," he said.
He liked the experience so much, he said, after graduating in 1998 he enrolled in Quinnipiac Law School in 1999, from which he graduated in 2003.
He said that working during the day and going to school at night was difficult at first, but doable with good time management.
"It's something I've gotten used to. It's time management," he said. "I don't watch much TV or waste a lot of time during the day. When I'm awake, I'm usually productive, so it's worked out just fine."
In 2006, he completed a 10-week training program at the FBI National Academy, in Quantico, Va. Now he's working toward his Master of Business Administration at the University of Massachusetts Isenberg School of Management. He opened a law office on Elm Street, at which he is the sole practitioner. He mostly works nights and weekends, he said.
"The fact that he's a lawyer is a real bonus," Selectman Nick Williams said. "More and more towns in the U.S. are realizing that legal training can be as important as police training in administering police departments today."
Selectman Beth Jones agreed.
"I'm so excited," she said. "I think he's a great choice. I think he's done a great job as interim chief. I think he's very fair and even handed and treats everyone the same way, which is crucial for a police chief. He's also very bright, and he's done Quantico, passed the bar, and shown real initiative. I couldn't be happier with the choice."
Police Commission Chairman Jim Cole, who has been the point person during the job search, did not return multiple calls for comment.
In a moment of reflection, Krolikowski said that his mother, who passed away in 1999, would be proud to see where her son is now, as chief.
"As I progressed through the ranks and was promoted, it had become a goal," he said. "It points to looking back and learning from what others did so that I could lead the department and make it better for everyone."
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