That's how a former police chief described him when he retired from the Hartford Police Department in 1984.
William Kearns, who spent 32 years with the city department, died Sunday in East Hartford. He was 86.
Kearns, a Hartford native said his youth was punctuated by fistfights and getting kicked out of several city schools, according to newspaper accounts. His pugilistic skills led him to the boxing ring, where he fought more than 100 professional bouts as a welterweight, sparred with Hartford legend Willie Pep, and came within one victory of fighting Sugar Ray Robinson for a world championship.
Kearns took his combative skills to the police job in 1952 and quickly earned a reputation for sniffing out trouble and bad guys.
According to The Courant archives, in 1957, Kearns captured Raymond J. Leblanc, a convicted rapist who was preying on city women. Kearns, driving alone in a squad car 40 minutes after one of the attacks occurred on Flower Street, came upon LeBlanc and stopped him for questioning. LeBlanc was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 18 to 35 years in prison. Kearns received a medal for distinguished service.
He also earned the nickname "2412 Kearns." The number referred to the state statute on driving under the influence of alcohol. According to a 1959 news article, Kearns made more than 250 DUI arrests.
At the time of his retirement in 1984, Kearns recalled a situation in the 1960s in which he went to a crime scene and ended up in the bathroom with the suspect.
"The guy had a shotgun at my head and a woman was in the bathtub. All cut up. Bleeding all over. Moaning and groaning," he said. He said he knew the guy wasn't going to shoot because he didn't fire when Kearns kicked in the door.
"When he hesitated I knew I had a chance," Kearns said. "By a quick move I was able to push the gun up and he blew a hole in the ceiling."
"Billy was a tough little dude," said retired Hartford Det. Leo Chupron, who knew Kearns in the late 1960s and early 1970s. "He was a very good cop."
Kearns, who participated in body-building contests, won third place in the 1960 Mr. Connecticut contest and competed at the New York World's Fair in 1964. He also became president of the Hartford police union. In 1971, he was named "Top Cop of the Year" in a national poll of police departments sponsored by the International Brotherhood of Police Officers
In a 1971 speech before the Hartford Lions Club, Kearns blasted law enforcement critics, saying that "by some strange twist in our society, the police officer has become the number one target of the criminal element, the rioter and many times of a group that can only be characterized as over-educated jackasses.
"It takes a lot of man, a dedicated and devoted individual, to want to be a police officer in this day and age," he said.
After retiring, Kearns became a private detective.
Hartford attorney Michael Georgetti knew Kearns through his association with the Neutral Corner Boxing Association, which included Pep and another famous city fighter, Umberto "Big Boy" Carilli.
Georgetti, the attorney for the association, hired Kearns from time to time as a private detective. "He used to have a saying that, 'If I can't find you, you aren't lost," Georgetti said. "He had such a wit and he could really work the streets of Hartford."
Georgetti said Kearns helped young people through his work with the Police Athletic League.
"He helped hundreds of kids avoid jail," Georgetti said.
Retired Hartford Police Det. Paul Kutcher said Wednesday that the days of police officers like Kearns have passed.
"They had nothing to prove as they knew exactly what they were capable of. They treated everyone with respect despite race, color or religion as long as they received respect, Kutcher said. "Not as a police officer but as a man — a concept which is lost these days."
Courant Senior Information Specialist Tina Lender contributed to this report.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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