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Monday, May 15, 2017

Two Staples Grads Talk Race and Policing

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Jeff Pegues shows off his Staples Wall of Fame plaque last September. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) WestportNow.com photo

Jeff Pegues, now CBS News Justice and Homeland Security Department correspondent, grew up in Westport, belonging to one of a handful of black families in town at the time.

“From elementary school through high school, I always felt comfortable in Westport,” he writes in his new book, “Black and Blue: Inside the Divide Between the Police and Black America.” [Prometheus Books, $24]

There were some incidents in which he felt “the sting of racism,” but they were rare, he says. “Westport welcomed me; and my friends there remain a big part of my life to this day.”

At Staples High School, the Class of 1988 graduate met and became friends with a fellow player on the football team who emigrated from Greece at age 9, speaking not a word of English.

Although two years younger, Fotios Koskinas and the black kid hit it off.

“I always remember him with a smile on his face — except when he was drive-blocking an opponent down the field,” says Pegues, who also was a standout on the track and field relay team.

They met again in the fall of 2016 at the same football field when Pegues was inducted in the Staples High School Wall of Fame. (Pegues had gone on to be a starting wide receiver at Miami University.)

“It was like old times,” Psgues says.

They chatted. Pegues was completing the manuscript for his book, and he decided to devote a chapter in it to his old friend, now Westport’s police chief.

The result is a remarkable and insightful look into policing in Westport. And how Koskinas, 45, is working hard to make sure issues of racism and tolerance are priority-training topics for his officers.

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“Black & Blue:” One chapter is devoted to Westport’s police chief. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

Some highlights:

—Koskinas says people are using the “race card because cops are at a point where they don’t want to get in the middle of this … We’ve created an environment where cops will back off to avoid the racial issues.” In Westport, some officers tell Koskinas when they are running radar and see a car speeding with a black driver, “they’ll wait for the next car … It’s not a matter of picking on people. They just don’t want to deal with it.”

—Following murders of police officers n Dallas and St. Louis, Koskinas used the asset forfeiture fund to buy “the latest and greatest ballistic shields for the guys. Vests that will stop rifle rounds and stuff like that, to give the guys the reinforcement that I care, the community cares, the town cares, and we’re going to give you the best equipment.”

—New computer-based firearms training for Westport officers makes for more realistic situations than firing at a paper target. “This is just one more thing — where we’re able to make this as real as possible and find our strengths and weaknesses in a time of stress,” Koskinas says.

—Most Westport officers now have body cameras. This often has resulted in a 180-degree turn by people who made complaints against officers. Koskinas says they watch a video of their incident and see it’s not exactly how they recalled it. They end up walking away because they see what actually happened, Koskinas says, adding it happens “time and time again.”

—Koskinas learned firsthand the anxiety and stress that can be caused by a police officer pulling over someone. “I got pulled over a few days ago … my brake light was out,” Koskinas says. 

He says his department car is unmarked and the officer had no way of knowing he was a fellow police officer. “I live in Fairfield — my heart was beating like a thousand times a minute, feeling like I did something wrong, I’ve now been a cop for twenty years. I’m a police chief! I saw the light behind me, and my heart is racing. So I get it! I absolutely get it!”

In the book’s afterword, Pegues mentions Koskinas, Staples High School, Staples Football, Staples Track and Field, and longtime Staples track coach Laddie Lawrence.

Pegues will appear at the Westport Library for a talk about his book on Thursday, June 8 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Koskinas will join him for a discussion.

This program is in special memory of Westport illustrator Tracy Sugarman, civil rights and social justice activist.

The Westport Library is hosting the event in partnership with TEAM Westport and the Westport Police Department. The discussion will be held in the McManus Room.


Posted 05/15/17 at 12:30 AM  Permalink


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