In times of strife, Manchester Police Chief Marc Montminy says Officer Bernie Hallums is his go-to guy.
“When something really bad happens, I look for Bernie,” Montminy said of the veteran cop.
“When a police officer was forced to shoot someone, I called Bernie,” the chief said. “When an officer is experiencing PTSD, I call Bernie. When a member of the public can’t be consoled because their child was killed in a fire, I call Bernie.”
To many Manchester residents, especially low-income families, Hallums also represents the department’s generous spirit.
In this season, he’s the Christmas cop who puts together a holiday party for low-income children and their families at Manchester High School. For the next several weeks, the founder of the local Blue Angels Foundation (http://bit.ly/2hwvQ6G) and his team of volunteers will gather donated toys to match wish lists of local boys and girls. On Christmas Day, Hallums will join fellow officers in delivering even more toys in the department’s armored vehicle.
A town officer since 1986, Hallums, 53, also launched and coordinates the department’s Citizens Police Academy, a free 15-week program held in the spring that aims to give residents a close-up view of police work. In the summer, he runs a “three-on-three” basketball program for local kids.
Department spokesman Capt. Christopher Davis said Hallums “has been an exceptional liaison between the police department and the community.”
“Over the years, he has fostered a tremendous amount of good will with the community that will continue on long after he decides to end his career here,” Davis said.
Manchester, Hallums says, “is an amazing community.”
“It’s diverse and very versatile,” he said. “What I mean is, it just changes positively with the times.”
Hallums grew up in Middletown, one of three siblings. His father was a guidance counselor and adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University, and his mom was a bank manager. After graduating from Xavier High School, he received a bachelor’s degree in legal studies from Quinnipiac. He said he considered becoming a lawyer, but thought a police career would bring him closer to people.
In his 31 years with the department, Hallums has served as a critical incident negotiator -- “talking people off the ledge, both figuratively and literally,” Montminy said; as a peer counselor to fellow officers in distress; field training officer; D.A.R.E. instructor; and school resource officer. In 2001, he was offered a promotion to sergeant, but declined because he was assigned to Illing Middle School and didn’t want to leave students in the middle of the year, Montminy said.
“In addition to being a fine police officer, Bernie is a community police officer,” Montminy said. “He recognizes that police work is about more than enforcing the law -- it’s about when not to; it’s about when a kind word or act can make the difference in someone’s life. This is not something you can teach; it’s part of your personality.”
Hallums formed the Blue Angels Foundation in 2001. Working in the middle school, he saw kids wearing the same clothes day after day. He heard students around Christmas time talking about toys they received, while poorer children “weren’t talking about anything.”
About 75 people from 18 families attended that first year’s Blue Angels Christmas party. Since then, attendance has been as high as 522 people and 120 families, Hallums said. He said he keeps the program going because he remembers the people who helped him.
“I had some amazing people touch my life when I was young — basketball coaches who would pick me up for practice,” Hallums said. “People treated me very well as I grew up and I wanted to give some of that back.”
Hallums said he plans to retire after next year’s Blue Angels party. He said he’s not sure if he’ll stay in Connecticut, but he has gathered many like-minded people on the foundation board and is confident the annual tradition will continue.
“I’m just one guy with an idea,” Hallums said. “Luckily, this community has allowed it to become a staple program here.”