New leader takes command of the Wilton Police Department: 'Everybody is calling me chief now'

WILTON — Standing outside the station house off Danbury Road, Thomas Conlan — Wilton's new police chief— heard a robust shout from someone nearby.

"Congratulations!" yelled a Planning & Zoning Department official who, like many in the town, knows Conlan as a familiar face and veritable fixture in town.

The Bridgeport native started with the department nearly 23 years ago in April 2000, shortly after earning a degree in law enforcement. Since that time, he has worked his way through the ranks, established a stellar reputation and came to know the town intimately.

"I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to serve as the chief," Conlan said in an interview Feb. 2 as the second day of his new command began. "I can't be more thankful to the first selectwoman and the Police Commission and community for selecting me."

Conlan replaced John Lynch, who officially left the position Feb. 1 after nearly six years, moving to Rhode Island to lead the police department on Block Island.

Many remember that Conlan and family lost their house in Oxford to a fire when it nearly burned to the ground in 2017.

"It was quite a scare," he said. But he said that he, his wife, Ashley, and their three children, now ages 14, 11 and 8, have all bounced back well from a traumatic experience that displaced them for nearly a year.

Many people in the town of Wilton, including officials and fellow police personnel, stepped up to offer support to his family at that time, he said.

'Officers are here to help'

Conlan is particularly well-suited for his new role because of his interest and philosophy in relating to how a police department is part of the larger community.

"You have to keep a good handle on what the community wants," he said. "That's an important aspect of being a leader, recognizing that."

Conlan, who comes from a large family that includes six sisters and two brothers, was inspired and influenced when he was young by a role model who served on the Bridgeport Police Department and who was dating one of his sisters.

"You kind of respected him," he said, describing the officer as "a no-nonsense guy" who quietly made a positive impression on him.

A graduate of Notre Dame High School in Fairfield, Conlan said he was also fortunate to travel in a crowd of good friends, many of whom had similar interests and aspirations.

"You are who your friends are," he said. "We all had some interest in law enforcement."

The idea of making a difference also appealed to Conlan, who obtained an undergraduate degree and eventually a master's degree in criminal justice from the University of New Haven.

He pointed out, however, that the work a police officer is very different from how it is portrayed on TV — something he learned from the many professional officers and justice officials at college.

The job in Wilton, he said, is service-oriented, with a key part of the police department's role involving preventative outreach with the community.

"Officers are here to help. ... We do a lot with the high school," Conlan said, including the School Resource Officer Program, focusing on current issues as they arise. "Vaping seems to be a big issue in the schools right now. ... It's become more and more of an issue."

Rising through the ranks

Within the police department, Conlan said that his promotion to sergeant in 2008 was particularly noteworthy for him in terms of his impact in-house.

"You get to make a difference with the officers," he said of the position in which he took command of several patrol division shifts and became involved with the town's Domestic Violence Task Force at that time.

In 2013, Conlan was promoted to lieutenant, taking on new roles that included the management of Wilton's Emergency Operations Center Facility. Less than two years after that, he was promoted to captain in October 2015, when he became responsible for all administrative functions within the police department, as well as training and records.

In 2017, he became the department's executive officer, working with then-Chief Robert Crosby.

"When I got promoted to captain in 2015 under Chief Crosby, he had taught me all about the budget process," Conlan said, so the work was largely delegated to him by that time.

When it comes to the work of the police department, Conlan said, "It's a partnership."

"We all work together and want to do what's best for the town," he said. 

Now the top cop overseeing nearly 50 employees, Conlan described the responsibilities as familiar and comfortable, but noted that how he's viewed by the public and his fellow officers has changed a bit.

"It is a little different," he said. "Everybody is calling me 'chief' now."

"But it's been very nice," he said.

When he's not on the job, Conlan said he helps coach his son's Little League, enjoys trail hiking, and spends a lot of time with his extended family.