Town officials, police officers and community members celebrated the 20-year career of Lt. Christina Barrow Friday at the Avon Police Department as she retires from the police force.
"You just know when it's time to move on," Barrow, of Granby, said. "You have to follow your instinct."
The search process is underway for her replacement and the town is first looking to promote from within before opening it up to outside candidates.
"It's a critical position in the police department," Avon Police Chief Mark Rinaldo said. "We need it filled."
Barrow joined the department as a patrol officer in 1992, rising to the rank of sergeant in 1998. She was promoted to lieutenant in 2002.
"I think she's been a tremendous influence on women in policing," Rinaldo said, noting that she's been a part of the Connecticut Association of Women Police. "She's just been forward-thinking, very caring and she was able to mix her professional mannerisms with it."
Barrow was the first female sergeant and lieutenant at the department. Lt. Kelly Walsh, who previously worked under her supervision as a patrol officer and detective, said that seeing Barrow balance work and being a single mom is inspiring because she shows how women can have kids and continue their careers. Barrow's daughters and sister were present at her retirement party.
"It's very eery that she's going to be gone because I can't believe it," Walsh said.
While Friday was Barrow's last day with the department, she will remain a part of the Avon community as a new Dunstan Jewelers employee. She has known the Route 44 jewelry store owner for at least as long as she's been a police officer. Barrow said she wanted to try something new and get a "fresh start."
The retirement party was low key with food and cake. No speeches were given in keeping with Barrow's modest nature.
When asked about the highlights of her time at the department and what she will remember most, Barrow said "the friendships I've made in the department and hopefully the positive influence I made to somebody along the way." She also said that she also made friends in the Avon community.
She said she first knew she wanted to be a police officer because of another's "positive influence." Former Wethersfield Police Chief John Karengekis was kind to her and helped her after the death of her father. She wanted to make a difference in other people's lives like he did.
"He was instrumental in getting me into law enforcement, but he didn't know that," Barrow said.
As a lieutenant, Barrow oversaw patrol officers and police dispatchers. In the past she has done a lot of juvenile work, field training for new officers and community relations.
"She was a part of every major case since I've been here," Rinaldo said.
In 1998, she helped investigate the murder of 30-year-old Avon resident Kyle Holden in East Hartford. The perpetrators, Jamaal Coltherst and Carl Johnson, of East Hartford, were sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Under Barrow's command, the Avon Detective Division assisted Canton and State Police in a 2008 foot chase at the Nepaug Reservoir in New Hartford in pursuit of a man suspected of robbing Nino's Foreign Car Service in Avon and another place in Canton.
Barrow coordinated patrol response to the 2005 20-vehicle crash at the base of Avon Mountain after an American Crushing and Recycling truck lost control. Four people died in the accident and several others were injured. When a truck crashed into Nassau's Furniture near that intersection in 2007, Barrow was put in charge at the department as a support service coordinator while officers investigated.
"The amazing support she gave in the two accidents are a credit to her good work," Rinaldo said.
She was instrumental in the department's accredidation program, becoming one of its first accredidation managers in early 2000, Rinaldo said. The process happens every three years. Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Association (CALEA) honored the department with the Flagship Award for Service Excellence and Professionalism and meritorious accreditation in 2010. Barrow was also a state accredidation assessor.
There are many more cases Barrow has been involved in and she's done a lot more in the department, but she does not want any recognition for it.
But she's gotten it nonetheless from her coworkers and in many letters from grateful community members.
In one letter, an Avon resident expressed a similar appreciation for Barrow that she had for Karengekis when her father died.
"Dear Officer Barrow, I would like to thank you on behalf of my father and myself for helping us on the night of March 24 when my mom passed away," the person wrote to her. "Thank you for trying to save my mom and then when you knew she was gone showing your concern for us. I was sorry to have to meet you that way, but I am glad you were on the Avon police force that night. Our many thanks."
Many of Barrow's colleagues, town officials and retired officers said goodbye to her Friday, but Walsh couldn't help but bid her ado the way she did at the end of the week for several years.
"See you Monday," she said.