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On July 31, Guilford Police Department (GPD) Sergeant Sandy Brooks was celebrated by her peers upon her retirement after 20 years serving with GPD. She says she will continue to find ways to help others, as well as continuing to be a part of her hometown of Guilford, a community which supported her and helped her to succeed. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Brooks )
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Two decades ago, Sandy Brooks told her family she was going to become a police officer. The response?
“My family thought I was kidding!” she says.
She was not. Sandy joined Guilford Police Department (GPD) as a patrolman in 1999 and rose through the ranks to sergeant, before making the difficult decision to retire, effective last week.
“I love being a police officer,” says Sandy, who’s fondly known as “Brooksie” or just “Sarge” to her GPD family, and as a mentor to many younger officers. “And as I drive around town, I worry—are they going to give 150 percent like I do? I’m passionate about helping people.”
For those in town who have come to know this compassionate law enforcement professional, it’s nearly impossible to imagine her in any other role. What many may not know is that when she first decided to pursue her police career, Sandy was a single mother raising two small children on her own. She was also working in an entirely different field, in a job that she’d enjoyed for 10 years: as part of the medical aesthetics team at Savin Dermatology Center. And, to stay fit, Sandy was into bodybuilding.
“I like to be in the helping field; that’s in my nature,” she says. “But I was at a point in my life where I needed a change [and] more personal satisfaction.”
A client at the center suggested policing. Sandy took a very successful shot at the state’s police officer entry-level tests and was offered police work “right away,” she recalls.
“I got an offer from three different departments,” including GPD, says Sandy, who was living in North Branford at the time. “I always go with fate, and whatever happens, happens for a reason. I stuck with Guilford, and my career was amazing.”
While serving with GPD for her entire police career, Sandy went back to college (first earning an associates degree in human services, followed by a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice) and has now nearly completed her work to earn a master’s degree in organizational leadership and effectiveness. She also gathered extensive training and knowledge through years.
She has served as a detective and training sergeant and also on the Greater New Haven Domestic Violence Task Force, the Child Development Community Policing Program, as liaison to the Guilford Youth & Family Services Board, and as a DARE instructor. She spent more than a decade volunteering with Special Olympics CT and the Law Enforcement Torch Run.
Sandy also aspired to become the department’s first female lieutenant, and beyond. While she continued to have those goals and aspirations, as she reached her 20th year with GPD, Sandy also recognized she could retire and redirect her energy.
“It was a really difficult decision. I would have loved to stay another 10 years,” says Sandy.
‘Leave Them Better’
In her police work, Sandy, who also has a certificate in drug and alcohol counseling, put her energy toward helping others she encountered on the job.
“I really love to help people get the chance they deserve,” Sandy says. “I always try to leave people better than when I met them. Every call I go on, whether it’s a domestic, whether it’s an addict, whether its someone making really poor choices—I always try to plant a seed, to give them words of encouragement.”
She’s also found that “most people don’t commit crimes because they’re bad people. Something bad has happened to them, or they’re in a bad situation. So I always treat people with respect, and help them get through. Even if I’m arresting them, I always try to leave them better.”
Her willingness to help those in need often starts right at the response to a call, she adds.
“I start talking their lingo, and they know I know what they’re talking about,” says Sandy. “Most police officers don’t know about medication-assisted therapy, and where the rehabs are, and where people can get all that.”
Her efforts to support those in need has also extended to acts such as providing her private phone number to people suffering from drug addiction, so they’ll have a reliable person to contact.
“I’ve gotten calls just to say, ‘Sarge—I just got out of rehab!’ And I’m so happy for them,” says Sandy.
Sandy also participates with the New Haven-based non-profit Facebook group The Pizza People. The citizens-based group works together to bring pizza to the homeless on the New Haven Green, as well as bringing them clothing and other necessities, and simply providing a human connection.
“I actually sponsor their permit fee every month, and I’ve gone down there numerous times,” says Sandy. “I also do my own sort of outreach. I’ve lent my car out, so someone can give someone a shuttle to rehab. I collect clothing; a lot of times people will see I’m collecting clothes for [individuals like] a 32-year-old female that’s homeless, and people will drop stuff off to me at the station and I’ll get it to the person that’s going to give it to them.”
It’s not only in Sandy’s nature to help others, she’s personally experienced what it’s like to need support at a difficult time in life.
“I’ve been there. I’ve been a single mom of two kids,” says Sandy.
Sandy thanks her mom, Patricia Capello, for helping to support her and her career with GPD.
“My mom has been living with me since I went to the police academy, and really helped me raise my kids until I met Dave,” says Sandy of her husband, David Coppola, a retired New Haven police officer.
Between them, Sandy and Dave share six children (ages 26 to 19), a one-year-old grandson, and have a granddaughter on the way next month. Sandy’s oldest daughter, Courtney, now 26, lives in Louisiana, while her youngest, Carly, 24, remained in the area and is an emergency room trauma nurse at Yale New Haven Hospital.
The Final Sign Off
Sandy’s grateful Carly was able to be there for a bit of support on July 31, when GPD honored Sandy with two retirement parties.
“I didn’t know what to expect. They had me crying from 7 a.m.! And I’m stoic—you can’t bring me down. I’m very tough,” says Sandy, who also received flowers that had been sent to GPD by Courtney.
“It was amazing,” Sandy says of the day’s send-off. “I had retirees coming to see me, calling me, texting me, people bringing gifts.”
Sandy shares she tried to “sneak out” before 3 p.m., hoping she wouldn’t have to hear that “final sign off” coming from dispatch.
“I tried to get out of the building, but they made me do the final sign off,” she says, laughing now at a moment which drew tears. “They called me on the radio, and somebody handed me theirs.”
Sandy, who carried Badge 62 as a sergeant, gave the go ahead for the call, which included the brief message, “Thank you for your service. Best wishes.” To applause from her peers in the GPD community room, Sandy signed off with a final “Roger,” to dispatch.
“I had younger colleagues calling me until late into the night,” Sandy adds of that emotional day. “I didn’t know how much of an impact I actually had on them! I needed to hear all that. It was amazing. They’re a really good group of officers, and they’re going to take really good care of the town.”
As her daughter Carly shared in a note on Facebook, in part, “my mom has taken care of the Town of Guilford the same way she’s taken care of her family...She has wholeheartedly treated every person she’s met with dignity, respect, love and empathy. She has often, behind the scenes, gone above and beyond for those in need because she truly just loves to help people, and wants to give everyone the chance they deserve.”
As noted in many messages on the GPD Facebook page, which shared news and photos of Sandy’s retirement parties on July 31, Sandy’s moving on to the “next chapter.” She’s got some of that chapter figured out; the rest is still be written, she says. For now, Sandy will be concentrating on her side business of 10 years, Lashes at Length LLC, located in Branford.
“I have a dual role in my life—I’m also a lash artist. It’s my solitude, where I go to help women feel better about themselves,” says Sandy.
She also wants her hometown to know that she’s going to continue to be a part of the Guilford community, and that she’s grateful for all of the support she’s received from this town.
“I just want to thank the community. Without the community, I would not have had the career I had—I’ve had such a good career,” says Sandy. “And want to let everybody know I’m still going to be around as a part of the community, and still caring about the town that I live in.”
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