At the end of his speech tonight Vernon Riddick Jr. was overwhelmed by history.
By John Murray
It was a dramatic evening inside the Palace Theater tonight as Vernon Riddick Jr. was sworn in as the 21st police chief in Waterbury history, and become the first African-American to lead the department.
Riddick was solemn as he took the oath of office from Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary.
When State’s Attorney Maureen Platt said that law enforcement officers worked long hours, and are underpaid, Riddick attempted to draw public support for pay increases for the police department. Waterbury has lost dozens of experienced police officers the past several years because the city pay scale is lagging behind other cities and towns.
After ramping up the audience, Riddick peeked over to see how Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary was processing his public request for more pay for his officers. O’Leary told the Observer this week that police salaries were low in the city – creating turnover – and that if taxpayers wanted community police officers invested in the city, the officers needed compensation that matched other cities and towns in Connecticut.
Sandy Riddick, right, marched in front of her husband as the police department paraded down East Main Street towards the Palace Theater.
The audience broke out in laughter when Riddick told all the men in the crowd to stop staring at his three daughters when they came up on stage.
While Riddick’s father, Vernon Riddick Sr., placed the badge on his uniform, the newly sworn-in chief let out a gasp that infered his father had just speared him with the pin. His father cringed before realizing his son was goofing on him.
Chief Riddick posed for a photograph with three men who helped bust down the walls of discrimination inside the Waterbury Police Department. From left to right is Sam Beamon, Riddick, James “Pops” Wyrick, and Cicero Booker Jr.. All three men were involved in successful federal lawsuits that helped alter the workplace for minority police officers in Waterbury.
Riddick was unusually animated, proclaimed a deep faith in Jesus, teased Mayor Neil O’Leary about giving police officers a raise, cracked jokes, told the males in the audience not to check out his daughters as they walked across the stage, and was in complete command of the stage, and himself, until he ended his speech paying tribute to the black police officers who paved the way for his career.
Riddick told the 1500 people inside the theater that earlier in the day he had visited the gravesite of Cicero Booker Sr., the first black police officer in the city. Booker was sworn in 70 years ago to the day, October 4th, 1943, and passed away on October 4th, 1986.
While talking about Booker, Riddick began to cry, and then he spoke about visiting the grave sites of his mother, who passed when he was 13 years old, and his younger brother, Vin, a fellow Waterbury police officer who died from cancer several years ago.
While Riddick paused to compose himself, the theater fell silent as the audience witnessed one of the most dramatic moments in the history of the Palace Theater.