New Canaan Police Officers Kelly Coughlin and Will Sheehan on Wednesday graduated from the Connecticut Police Academy in Meriden and on Friday kickstarted a three-month field training program.
We caught up with the town’s newest police officers hours into their first day on the job to get their thoughts on New Canaan, policing and other matters of interest for local readers.
Here’s our conversation.
New Canaanite: Tell me a little bit about how you found New Canaan and came to be police officers in New Canaan.
Officer Will Sheehan: It’s actually a funny story. I was searching all over looking for police jobs. I was four years out of college and it was something I always thought about, and I came across New Canaan and had two days left to apply before the deadline. I applied, went through the process and got hired. I can’t even believe it actually happened.
What’s your degree in?
Sheehan: Business Administration and Sports Management.
A dual bachelor’s degree?
Sheehan: A major and a minor.
So your major is Business Administration.
Where did you get that from?
Sheehan: Coastal Carolina University.
What about you (to Coughlin)?
Officer Kelly Coughlin: Same question?
Coughlin: I don’t have a lot of law enforcement in my family. I have a cousin who was a West Haven police officer, but it was never really like I was around it or anything. I’ve always had an interest in police work and I think I knew even from middle school and high school, whether it was detective work or law enforcement, just something in that general field. And my senior year of college, which was this past year, I started applying, looking into police departments to apply to, and honestly I live in Trumbull, and I was looking for places that were nearby. New Canaan was one town that popped up and I sent in an application, got a good response from the Training Division. They sent me a whole PowerPoint about the department, I read into it, looked up some articles online and I just liked the way it seemed they were very involved in the community, they had a lot of positive outreach, a lot of community programs, so I thought, ‘Hey, I might as well apply.’ It’s the first job I applied for.
So you just graduated college, too, then?
Coughlin: This past May.
And when did you graduate (to Sheehan)?
Sheehan: In 2012.
So what were you doing in the interim?
Sheehan: I worked for a sports publication company in Manhattan for a little while, and I worked with Coca-Cola for a while.
OK so you had a couple of jobs in between?
This is your first job (to Coughlin)?
What did you study and where did you go to college?
Coughlin: I went to the College of New Jersey and I majored in criminology and minored in Spanish.
Are you both from Connecticut originally?
Coughlin: I’ve lived in Trumbull my whole life.
Sheehan: I live in New York, in Rockland County.
So I’ve heard a little bit about how you found the police department. What are your thoughts—and this is something that may be totally unrecognizable six months, a few years from now—but what are your thoughts now? You are finished with the Academy, so you’re on the job. You’re starting. So what is going on in your head on your first day?
Sheehan: Well, I’ve been saying this since graduation—it hasn’t really hit me yet. But being out, walking around today and talking with people, just being in uniform. We were talking before that you can see people looking at your differently. Not in a negative way, but looking at you in uniform. I’ve never felt that before, people noticing me just walking around. So that was something I picked up on.
Coughlin: I’m definitely excited. In college, you’re taking classes and I did an internship with the New Jersey State Police, so you’re seeing it first-hand but you’re not actually doing it. And then once you get in the Academy, you get a taste of it—motor vehicle stops, responding to pretend calls—and you think, ‘Wow, now I’m getting really excited about it.’ Even though it’s just our first day, just being in the uniform you feel a whole different way about it. But I’m definitely excited about it.
What are your first impressions of New Canaan?
Sheehan: It’s a beautiful area. Really nice, it seems that everyone gets along. Everyone knows each other. Just a nice community overall.
Coughlin: I knew New Canaan a little bit just from high school and playing sports in the area—
—What sports did you play?
Coughlin: I played basketball and golf. So I’ve known it just driving around but more lately, obviously I’ve been driving around and trying to get a feel for it. I really like the community. I like you have the town center and then it spreads out and there are big properties. Nice houses, big yards. Definitely a nice community where there are a lot of things going on that connect people.
Let me ask you about being a woman in this male-dominated profession. It could be it doesn’t matter or that it’s something you’ve thought about. What are your thoughts on that? Is it something you approach as: It’s a job, it’s a uniform.
Coughlin: Honestly I look at it from an unbiased standpoint. I look at it as a job, not as, ‘Oh I’m a female going into a male-dominated field’ or ‘Oh maybe I got hired, they looked at me because I’m female and maybe they wanted statistics’ because some places do that. I look at it—because I’ve played sports my whole life, and I’ve played with boys, played with girls, played on co-ed teams, everything—and I’ve always looked at it as I’m doing something I want to do. I’m looking to achieve in the field, not: ‘Oh, she’s achieving as a female.’
Did you continue with basketball and golf at College of New Jersey?
Coughlin: I played basketball in college. So, I’ve always been interested in the team aspect. I don’t care if I’m working with girls, I don’t care if I’m working with guys. Just people coming together as a group to achieve a common goal.
Do you like ‘William’ or ‘Bill’?
Sheehan: Everyone usually just calls me ‘Will.’
Tell me what are your priorities as you start on this job.
Sheehan: Entering field training, I just want to take in as much as I can. Try to get as comfortable as I can when I get let out on my own. I want to get a bunch of different perspectives, because I know I will eventually take up my own way of learning and how to do things. So I want to take in everyone’s ideas and see which ones fit me best.
Coughlin: Same thing. I want to go through as many different experiences as I can so that when I’m out there, on my own, I will have a better sense of how to react. And I think, for me, someone told me in the Academy that we as new incoming officers, at our age, have the ability to impact people’s perceptions of police, and I think that one of my things I definitely want to be is to be out in public, get to know people, have a good relationship with people, meet as many people as I can so that your relationships with people are not only when something is going wrong and they need your help. It’s also they can be friendly with you and come to you whenever they need you.
This period seems to stay with police. When I go to promotion ceremonies, for example, and speeches are made by promoted officers, they reference this stage in their career and their training officer, and so on. Do you have any specific goals within the police department or specific areas within policing that you’re especially interested in?
Coughlin: I’ve always been interested in Investigative Division, something like that, whether it be detective work or any kind of investigative work. Being in the academy, you learn about all of these different positions. There’s a SWAT team, K-9 officers. I feel like for me, I should try different areas and see what I like and stay open to all different options.
Sheehan: Being exposed to a bunch of different things in the Academy, I’d be interested in K-9, investigative, SRT, a bunch of things, and I think being on the job for a little while, you’ll figure out exactly what you want to do. I can’t sit here now and give you an exact answer, since today is Day One. But I know when the time comes, I will know.
Do you have police in the family?
Sheehan: Yes, my grandfather was a New York City police officer. My uncle is a retired New York City police officer, and I have two cousins who are detectives in the city, as well.
Anything else you wanted to say? I have my basic questions answered.
Sheehan: Just excited to start. Get it going. Not getting ahead of myself and taking everything I’ve been taught.