In the 1970s, John Barnas and Raymond Sullivan were patrol officers in the capital city, two members of a department committed to keeping residents safe.
They shared one other, grim similarity: Both were injured in the line of duty, shot while responding to domestic disputes. At the time, neither saw the injury as more than an occupational hazard, something that came naturally with their badges and guns.
But times have changed, and policing has evolved. And, in an special ceremony Tuesday, the department gave the two long-retired officers some recognition, awarding them the police cross for their service.
“Why weren’t they recognized back then? I don’t know,” Deputy Chief Joseph Buyak said during the event he helped organize. “But, whatever the case may be, for the years that have passed without the recognition that you both truly deserve, I offer an apology. Today, though, we’re going to change that.”
Police Chief James Rovella presided over the ceremony, which also highlighted the promotion of Sgt. Gena Liappes to first sergeant, a ceremonial rank given to the most senior sergeant in the department. Liappes was the first female sergeant in Hartford history and, therefore, the first woman to achieve the rank of first sergeant.
It was the second such ceremony organized by the department this year, part of a larger initiative to improve the physical, mental and emotional wellness of officers.
“The connection between retirees and active officers is very important,” Rovella said. “Because I wouldn't have survived on the job, and other officers wouldn’t have survived on the job, without the transference of experience and knowledge from these more senior officers.”
For the honorees, it was a chance to see old friends and make new connections among the multi-generational audience.
Barnas, joking before the ceremony, said he was glad to receive the call from Buyak when he did, otherwise “they would’ve had to make it a posthumous award.”
“It’s an honor to be here,” the former patrolman, 68, said. “It’s so interesting to see all the people in the community.”
The Meriden native put 24 years on the job in the city, most of them walking beats in the city’s long-gone housing projects: Charter Oak Terrace, Stowe Village, Dutch Point.
In 1972, while responding to a domestic call, Barnas came into contact with a man who had taken his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son hostage at knifepoint. He wrestled the weapon away from the man, only to have the suspect grab his service revolver and shoot him twice with it.
Though severely injured, Barnas walked away from the incident. He was back on patrol later that year.
That’s the way things were back then, as Raymond Sullivan pointed out.
“I never expected this,” the retired detective, 69, said Tuesday. “I always felt what happened was just a part of my job.”
Sullivan spent 26 years patrolling his hometown, and the stories of triumph and tragedy from those decades stay with him. But he carries another reminder of his time in uniform: Birdshot fragments from 1974, when he was shot by a mentally ill veteran while responding to a call for service.
Like Barnas, it didn’t deter him from the oath he had sworn.
“I was born and raised here. I love this city,” he said. “This was a great place to work, and I enjoyed every minute of it.”