No one’s more in tune with Bridgeport’s streets than William “Ron” Bailey. As violent crime is back in the news (hopefully not for long), the Bridgeport Police lieutenant knows all too well the horrifying violent crime rate from the mid-1980s into the early 1990s: 50, 60, 70 murders a year fueled by a crack epidemic controlled by drug gangs. Bailey, the former vice squad cop, has scars from fights with crackheads as a physical keepsake of the times.
The leading symbol of the arrogance in those days Mariano Sanchez had built a ruthless drug empire called “The Number One Family.” St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church in the West End became the flashpoint for violence in the city.
As I wrote in my book Chased, a biography of Bridgeport crimefighter Billy Chase, Monsignor Francis Campagnone and Father Nick Villamide were taunted ruthlessly by the gang members in the fall of 1986. They pelted the monsignor with eggs, blocked his entrance into the parking lot of the church. Helpless neighborhood citizens were beaten, roughed up, shot at. Many neighbors were captives in their homes as streets became drug markets for buyers. One day the monsignor stuck his phone outside the window of his church so the cops could hear the gunfire.
It led Mayor Tom Bucci to call for a community meeting at the church to address neighborhood concerns. Gang members had the temerity to taunt the mayor and police from the back of the room and leave packets of cocaine and human feces on the floor of the church bathroom. Bucci wasn’t convinced, with all the crime, murders and violence, he had the local resources to take out the drug gang. He arranged a meeting with then U.S. Attorney Stan Twardy, members of the local field office of the FBI and Connecticut’s Drug Enforcement Administration. In front of about 20 federal agents Twardy assured his office would make an unprecedented showing. Twardy and federal agents were true to their word.
Billy Chase and Bailey were key local law enforcement officials who worked with federal agents to bring down loads of bad guys and bring some peace to neighborhoods. Bailey is now working inside police headquarters overseeing sick and injury management. He’d have no problem going back out into the streets. In fact, he wants to go back.
Now almost 60, Bailey is a freak of nature, a master of Korean martial art tae kwon do, who relies on workouts and his faith for a stress-release appearance 20 years younger. He entered the Bridgeport PD in the same class as Joe Gaudett, now the city’s chief, nearly 30 years ago. Bailey is a maverick tough guy who does not come across as a tough; his approach is more cerebral, but not bashful about voicing an opinion. Some time ago he beefed with police union leadership over a host of issues. He responded by resigning from the union. Sometimes, he says, the guy with the seniority isn’t the best for the job. So it generally goes with union collective bargaining.
Bailey says the violence we’re seeing today doesn’t match the worst of 25 years ago, but the trend is definitely there. The big difference, he says, is the violence from the drug trade then was more organized. The key is to make sure they don’t become organized.
He has several ideas he’ll be sharing with the chief in an effort to help calm city streets following five murders in four weeks, the latest casualty a former New Haven cop with a history of issues with the law. Bailey says curtailing violence must be addressed on many fronts; economically, socially, politically and governmentally. He talked the other day about the need to bring back in earnest the city’s Stop, Walk and Talk program where cops learned the neighborhood and built contacts.
A major part of the problem, Bailey asserts, is economics. “When people are homeless, hungry, out of work, they do desperate things.”
It would be easy for Bailey to pack it in, retire, take his pension. He’s one of those guys who wouldn’t know what to do with himself. He needs to stay busy. Which is why if asked by the chief he’d return to the streets to try to restore sanity. “I support the chief,” says Bailey. “If he wants me there I’d prefer to be there.”