WESTPORT, Conn. -- Foti Koskinas hit the ground running when he became the Chief of Police in Westport on April 1. He really had no choice.
“Things have happened,’’ Koskinas said, “that have not happened in my entire career.”
Koskinas, a long-time Westport resident, succeeded Dale Call as the Westport chief on April 1. In the first few weeks, Koskinas and the Westport police investigated a deadly car accident and another near-fatal accident. Just over a month into his tenure, an officer committed suicide. Later on, a Westport couple barricaded themselves in their home with their child. Add in a couple of national holidays, where police were on heightened alert for drunk drivers, and the first 100 days of Koskinas’ tenure have been anything but routine.
“If we looked at my plan for my first 100 days, I don’t think we would have stuck to it very well,’’ Koskinas said. “Sometimes there’s no manual on how you handle certain situations. You just have to make sure the needs and demands of the department are met.”
Koskinas took an interesting path to the top at Westport, where he moved in 1981. He came to Westport when his father, Evangelos, decided to have his children educated in the United States. Foti’s English vocabulary was non-existent. “It was challenging,’’ Foti said. “But I made very good lifelong friends my first year here. Guys I met in sixth grade I still stay in touch with today.”
Two staff members at Long Lots Middle School, principal Dan Sullivan and teacher Sandy Ikard, helped Koskinas transition to the states. “Sandy worked with me all the time on learning English,’’ Foti said. “Before school, after school, weekends, whatever it took.”
Both educators, along with other long-time friends, attended Koskinas’ swearing in ceremony in April. He has worked for the department since 1996, was promoted to Sergeant in 2006 and became Captain in 2008. He was named the Deputy Police Chief in 2011.
“I was always content where I was,’’ Koskinas said. “Opportunities just came along. I thought even if I retire as deputy chief, that would be pretty good. I was not one of those guys that said ‘I have to be chief one day.’’’
He even passed a chance to join the FBI. He turned it down to stay in Westport, and his family’s history played a role in the decision-making process. “I would’ve been working overseas in Italy, because I’m fluent in Greek,’’ Foti said. “At the time, with two young kids, I just couldn’t do it. I’m grateful my parents gave me the opportunity to come here, but it was hard. I didn’t want to have to do that with my kids.”
Since moving to Westport and joining the force, the world has changed significantly. The town has expanded, national security is heightened and race relations are strained, maybe even more so than at any point in the past two decades.
Westport also sits along a major thoroughfare and between some larger cities where crime is rampant. Some of the region’s most hardened criminals pass through Westport, and it is Koskinas’ job to keep residents protected. The little boy who came from Greece 35 years ago without knowing an ounce of English and went on to play several sports at Staples High School is now entrusted with protecting residents of his adopted hometown. It’s a big job, and one he relishes.
“There have been a lot of ups and downs in the past 20 years,’’ Koskinas said. “I think the biggest challenge as a chief back in the 1990s were events like the parade, graduation and fireworks detail, and getting people in and out safely and quickly. Those are still concerns. But public safety is still paramount. You can’t stop thinking you’ll be a target of violence. The events at Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Orlando, you can’t put that on the back burner. You have to be ever vigilant. You just hope there isn’t someone out there looking to do harm in our community.”