AN ORGANIZATION OF PROFESSIONAL POLICE OFFICERS
OUR HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

As told by Lieutenant Thomas Keegan (Retired)
to Patrolman Ryan Daly - July 4, 2018

Every family has a story.  But as time elapses and people move on, memories fade.  The family tree becomes clouded and the history is slowly forgotten.  Yet, our present is so defined by our past:  By the decisions made, lives lived, and memories shared.  It is our responsibility and burden to learn from where we came and keep the memories alive.
The Silver Shield Association was started on rocky ground and amid continuous adversity in the late 1950s, in a town and department completely unlike what we know today.  The department behaved as a paramilitary organization, where excessive discipline and a “do as I say” policy thrived.


The patrolman’s job was nothing like it is today. What benefits existed? None!   Miss a department photograph?  No vacation days for two years!!  Back then, the schedule of six days on and one day off could easily be changed on a whim to seven on and no days off, with no possibility of recourse on the patrol level.  The job was one of honor and, yet, the patrol men and women were treated anything but honorably.


The seed of change that this department needed came from hardship -- one man’s fight against cancer.  Mike Kristoff was a patrolman in a world that knew very little of cancer; yet, he was not alone.  His fellow officers would regularly stuff five dollars in his mailbox -- a gesture that went a long way considering the time.  They would start grassroots events -- a symbol of the time -- in order to collect one-dollar entry fees, which were then given to a man struggling to fight, make ends meet, and provide for his family. 


As Mike’s vacation days dried up, the department wanted to cut off his paycheck and put an end to his employment.  The patrol-level viewed this as unacceptable; they were determined to not let it happen. 


One afternoon the officers and their families gathered at the top of Greenwich Avenue in the basement of what was the Greenwich Gas Company.   From there they marched to Town Hall -- now the Senior Center on Greenwich Avenue and began their protest.  Soon after, a high-powered attorney, Frank Mazza, came out of the building.  He had heard their story and stated resolutely that “nobody’s getting their paycheck cut,” before walking back inside.   Kristoff’s paycheck was saved, helping him and his family until he ultimately passed from the disease.


It took that incident to empower the patrol level.  They knew from the experience that they had a voice that needed and deserved to be heard.  And so they met in secrecy with the law firm Tierney and Whalen on West Elm Street. 
Each day, patrolmen would go to the law firm to begin what would amount to the Silver Shield Association -- a beginning, not surprisingly, met with department adversity.  The Deputy Police Chief would send detectives to the law firm to write down plate numbers and vehicle descriptions in an attempt to stop the union from forming.  


One patrolman in particular, Ray Grant, who later became Chief of Police, was in the sights of the Deputy Chief.   He was called into the Deputy’s office and told, in no uncertain terms, that he was “going to lose his job.”  When Chief David Robbins entered the office, he said, “Grant, you’re dismissed.”   More than a bit confused, Grant left the Deputy’s office; however, as he was leaving Chief Robbins said to him, “nobody’s going to lose their job, and you’re going back to work.”
According to legend, Robbins told his Deputy, “If they’re going to form a labor union, they’re going to form a labor union,” and it was no less than a month later, on brisk autumn day in 1958 that the Silver Shield Association was born; born despite a totalitarian-like department; born from the passion of “An Organization of Professional Police Officers.”