When Robert P. Comers joined the Fairfield Police department in 1965, he drove around town in a six-cylinder 1965 Chevy Bel Air patrol car with a single red light, a spotlight in the roof that leaked, a stick shift on the column and, after eight hours on duty, a sore leg. “In those days, we didn’t even have air conditioning,” he recalls.
Bob Comers went on to become a captain in the police department and finally retired last year after 44 years. But he has some vivid memories of his time in service. “My dad suggested that I become a policeman. Well, I hadn’t thought of doing that before, but I took the test and got started and right off the bat, I liked it a lot,” said Comers. The headquarters in those days was in the Operation Hope building of today. “There was a sergeant at the desk and two cells in the back. We had a total of about 70 men,” as opposed to 108 today, “and you could easily go through the midnight shift, to 8 a.m., without a call,” he said.
Asked what the biggest change has been in his years on the force and he answers without hesitation, the technology. “In those days, all we had was the police radio in the car—no walkie-talkie, no computer. So if you stopped someone, you had no information about the driver or the car. You would have to radio headquarters where one man was on duty. He would copy down the information and use the teletype machine to send an inquiry to the Motor Vehicle Department in Weathersfield. Some guy there, when he had time, would go to a file cabinet and pull out the relevant information then send a teletype back to the guy on the desk who would radio the information to you. A traffic stop could easily take an hour.”
Now, of course, patrol cars have computers so an officer instantly knows more about the car and the driver than the driver probably does. Helpfully, if the driver has a criminal record, that information pops up as well. “Then, there was no overtime pay for anything. I got $5,100 a year and that was it. You had to live in Fairfield. Training consisted of driving around with a senior officer for a week. But I have to say that I felt there was perhaps more esprit de corps back then. There were also a lot more rules. For example, you had to wear your uniform hat all the time, even in the car. The cars came with AM radios but they were taken out, so everyone had a little transistor radio. The basic gun was a .38 caliber Colt revolver. You weren’t supposed to have any other gun, but over time more and more guys did, that is, until someone shot himself in the leg and then it was back to the Colt.”
Comers never fired his gun at someone in all his years on the force and for some reason never had to take a fingerprint. There were a few harrowing times such as when a rookie cop decided to walk up to a drunk man with a shot gun and suggested he put it down. Meanwhile, a horrified Officer Comers was crouched down behind a car trying to decide whether he would have to shoot the man to save his partner’s life. “It was the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.”
There were tragedies along the way as well. He still recalls, with emotion in his voice, the night when five teens were killed in a car crash on Burr Street in the late Sixties. “I never did quite get over that,” he says.
He is proud of the Citizen’s Police Academy (a very successful program that has been cut this year because of a tight budget) and his rise through the ranks to near the top of the department. “I enjoyed my job. I won’t tell you it isn’t fun to drive fast through town with the lights and siren going because it is. I’ve lived in this town since I was three years old. I hope I’ve made it a better place.”