Naugatuck native face of state police

State Trooper First Class Kelly Grant, center, leads a press conference in November at Troop A in Southbury on the arrest in a murder. Grant, a Naugatuck native and current resident, has been the official spokeswoman for the Connecticut State Police since September. –REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

State Trooper First Class Kelly Grant, center, leads a press conference in November at Troop A in Southbury on the arrest in a murder. Grant, a Naugatuck native and current resident, has been the official spokeswoman for the Connecticut State Police since September. –REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

A tractor-trailer flips over on a Connecticut highway at 4 p.m., closing all lanes just before rush hour.

Commuters want to know how long it will be before it’s cleared, whether they should take alternate routes and whether anyone was injured.

This is normally the time state police Trooper First Class Kelly Grant starts fielding phone calls from media outlets statewide.

Grant, a 43-year-old Naugatuck native and current resident, is the face of the Connecticut State Police. In September, she officially took over the prestigious, 24/7 job as the agency’s official spokeswoman.

“I like keeping everybody informed,” she said. “I like telling people that our troopers are making arrests, investigating accidents and showing what they do.”

Grant’s rise to spokeswoman has been part of a whirlwind situation within the Connecticut State Police’s Public Information Office, where Grant has worked for about six years. In February, Commissioner Dora Schriro transferred popular longtime spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance to the traffic division; officials only said they were going in a different direction.

In March, Sgt. Shane Hassett was named as Vance’s replacement. He was supposed to work with Grant under a team approach, and the two would be the combined voice of the department.

Hassett spent just five months in the position. He requested a transfer back to Troop C in Tolland, saying that he wanted to spend more time with his family. In recent months, Grant has become the agency’s official spokeswoman.

Grant, who said she learned everything she knows from Vance, said it is both an honor and a major responsibility to represent the department’s more than 1,100 troopers statewide.

“You have to make sure you are representing the agency properly,” she said. “No matter what happens. Whether it’s something a trooper did or something you are trying to get out, it needs to be presented properly. It needs to be the correct information, and it needs to be done in the correct manner.”

She acknowledged that she feels additional pressure in being a black female in a field dominated by white men. While there have been other black troopers and female troopers in the public information office, Grant is the first black trooper and first female trooper to serve as the voice of the department.

“There is that added pressure, added responsibility,” she said. “I would certainly want people to think I am qualified for this position, as opposed to people saying, ‘She got the position because …’ I want people to see that I am the right person for the job.”

Grant didn’t always plan on a career in law enforcement, which was third on her list of career paths behind nursing and then social work.

After graduating from Naugatuck High School in 1990, she moved on to obtain a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Connecticut. She applied for a job as an officer at the Naugatuck Police Department with the intention of spending five years there and going on to graduate school for social work. She did, indeed, work as a Naugatuck officer for five years. But she fell in love with law enforcement.

Twice as a detective in the Naugatuck Police Department’s youth division, she was able to send to prison men who had sexually abused children — one of them impregnated a 14-year-old girl, she said. As a result of her investigation, the man was sentenced to 40 years in prison, she said.

The ability to have that kind of impact on society fed her desire to remain in law enforcement. She left the Naugatuck Police Department to join the Connecticut State Police 14 years ago.

In that time, she has served in a variety of different roles, including a short time as a resident trooper in Southbury and five years as part of the security detail for former Gov. Jodi Rell.

Rell, who is now retired from public life, recalled Grant fondly.

“One of the things that is interesting about Kelly is that she really is shy,” Rell said, finding irony in the fact that Grant is constantly in the limelight in her new role. “She would come to me and say, ‘I can’t go on TV.’ I would say, ‘Why not? Of course you can.’”

She recalled how Grant was always a hard worker and a consummate professional.

“If I had to describe her in one word, it would be professional,” Rell said.

Retired Naugatuck Police Capt. Jeremiah Scully agreed with Rell’s assessment.

“As the youth officer, she would show up to scenes in cases that involved juveniles and want to be involved right from the very beginning,” Scully said. “She worked hard on cases from beginning to end to bring justice for victims. It was tough to see her leave the department, but we couldn’t hold her back, and ultimately she has done very well with the state police.”

Grant doesn’t know what is next in her career. She anticipates being with the state police for a good while longer. For the time being, she is just hoping to get some rest between calls from reporters.

“There have only been 10 so far today,” she said at 10 a.m. on recent weekday. “Not bad.”