STAMFORD—Francis “Pinky” Cronin, an assistant chief at the Stamford Police Departmentand 32-year law enforcement veteran known for his toughness as a supervisor during the drug wars of the 1980s as well as for his 17-year-long fight with cancer, died Friday afternoon. He was 66 and survived by his wife of 41 years, Louise, their four children and his two sisters.Cronin, a native of Boston, passed away at his Stamford home with his family present, ultimately losing his ongoing battle with cancer, a struggle from which he regrouped several times over the last few years up until the past several weeks. The former head of the Internal Affairs Unit at the Stamford Police Department, Cronin was made an assistant chief in 2010 when Chief Robert Nivakofftook over the department.In a statement, the Cronin family described their father as a career policeman who showed compassion to victims and suspects alike, always calling them “someone’s child.””Francis Lawrence Croninwill always be remembered for all that sweet stuff inside him and his enormous and genuine heart,” the family said in a statement via email.”Nothing is fake about Frank Cronin. Frank loves people he has never met.”A former U.S. Navysailor who worked in submarines, Cronin joined the Stamford police force in 1973 but got assigned directly to the statewide narcotics unit to work in an undercover capacity, where he stayed for the next six years, according to his family and his colleagues at the Stamford Police Department. At the time he worked in the most dangerous cities in Connecticut.He was stabbed in Bridgeport and got arrested several times while investigating the drug trade. During this time he also developed the nickname “Pinky,” which was his street name during drug deals, recalled Nivakoff, who described Cronin as his best friend.His family, however, said Cronin gave them various different reasons for acquiring the nickname.He left undercover work to patrol the streets of Stamford as a uniformed officer. In 1978 he received the department’s Officer of the Year award. Cronin got promoted to sergeant and began the Community Oriented Policing Enforcementunit to target street drug sales and rampant violence in Stamford.
After a promotion to lieutenant, Cronin headed the police department’s training academy and then worked in its Bureau of Criminal Investigations before landing in internal affairs.
Nivakoff worked with Cronin on the West Side as crack cocaine became popular and began fueling violence in the city.
“I loved the man, and I miss him already,” Nivakoff said on Saturday.
Nivakoff said he learned more from Cronin than any other supervisor, a common statement from many officers who worked under him. The chief said Cronin taught him that people on both sides of the law deserve compassion and equal treatment. Stamford police Officer Angel Gonzalez, a major crimes investigator who grew up in the West Side, said he remembered Cronin being a well-known figure in his community.
“Everybody knew Pinky,” he said. “He would interact a lot with the kids. If you were a criminal he would be on you and if you weren’t one, then he would be there for you.”
While his compassion gained him popularity on the streets, his toughness helped form his reputation within the department. When Cronin was first diagnosed with cancer and began receiving chemotherapy, Nivakoff said he would get treatment in the morning and then report to work later that day for the 3-to-11 p.m. shift.
“They don’t make them like that anymore,” Stamford police Sgt. Richard Phelan said. “People who come on the job are going to hear stories about Frank Cronin.”
Sgt. Anthony Lupinacci, an investigative supervisor, was a brother-in-law to Cronin, who married his sister in 1970. He said Cronin was admired for his resilience through his health problems. Cronin was first diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells in bone marrow, but the cancer later spread throughout his body. Lupinacci said the past few years were marked by Cronin’s refusal to succumb to the cancer.
“He’d be near death’s door and then come back to work again,” Lupinacci said.
The outlook was grim a month ago, when a Catholic priest gave him last rites at Stamford Hospital, but a few days later Cronin was sitting up and watching TV.
“It looked like he was going to make another comeback, but this time things just got the best of him,” Lupinacci said. “I’ve never saw somebody with such a strong will to live.”
Nivakoff said the department will hold an inspector’s funeral for Cronin on Tuesday.
— Staff Writer Jeff Morganteen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 203-964-2215.