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The Career That Almost Wasn’t

–The Retired Cop

I took the Oath of Office to become a Syracuse Police Officer on May 6, 1970.  The start of my Police Career almost ended before it started.  Several days before I was sworn in I received a call from the Syracuse Police Personnel Department and was advised that I needed to come to the Public Safety Building for another interview.

Once there I was ushered up to the 4th Chief’s Office.  Seated was the Chief of Police, 1st Deputy Chief of Police, and two other Deputy Chiefs. I was asked to explain a question that I had answered during my time as a U.S. Marine.  One of the pre-qualification questions had to do with time in the military and had the candidate gotten in any trouble that might disqualify the candidate from being considered for the position of a police officer.  When I filled the questionnaire out I related an incident that occurred while I was on a Ready Force Deployment in the Caribbean.  I was assigned to the 2nd Tank Battalion as a Tank Commander and our platoon took part in practice landings with the Dutch Marines in Aruba.

Prior to departing the ship for the landing, we had secured two canned hams from the Navy in exchange for two cases of C-rations. Once ashore and after we finished our two-day exercise we traded one of the hams for a case of Heineken beer.

Unknown to me one of my crew members had secured a couple of beers to take back aboard ship.  Once aboard the ship, one of the Navy personnel discovered the beer which was a violation, and reported it to my 1st Lieutenant.  We, all four of us, were brought before the Ship’s CO who along with my 1st LT, rather than preferring charges assigned us to a work detail for one week in the ship’s bilges. Although I did not know it at that time this was never made part of our Military record.

After explaining what had happened to the Chief’s I was advised that the incident would be taken under advisement and a decision would be made as to the future of my hiring.

Now what should be noted was that at that time my father was a Sgt. with the Department and a highly respected officer having almost 20 years in the department.  The Chief of Police asked me if I had a problem with authority?  Would I have a problem following the rules and regulations of the Syracuse Police Department and more importantly did I think because my father was a Sgt. on the Department did I think that should be enough for the incident to be overlooked?

I could feel my career starting to slip away before it got started.  I explained that what had happened during my time in the Marine Corps was an incident that I regretted, that I was not reduced in rank, and that I had been honorably discharged as a Sgt.

I also explained that I would have no problem with authority and following the rules and regulations of the Syracuse Police Department and that I looked forward to taking the oath of office.  More importantly, I wanted to be part of the Department based on my qualifications not because of my father.  Before the interview ended, the Chief of Police who knew my dad asked me if “I had told my father about the incident in the Marine Corps”?  I said absolutely not that it was something that had happened, I had taken personal responsibility and that I saw no reason to tell my father.  Quite honestly I was thinking I was a 22-year-old Marine Corps Combat Veteran so why would I need to tell my dad about something that had no bearing on my career as a Marine Veteran.

The interview lasted about an hour and when I left the room I was not sure if I had a job or not.

As I got on the elevator, the 1st Deputy Chief got on with me.  He told me not to worry,  that had I not disclosed that incident on the questionnaire the Chief would have never known about it, that it was never made part of my military file.  He went onto say that by disclosing that incident the Chief’s in that interview knew that I was a person of integrity and that I would be getting a phone within the next day or so advising me that I was being hired.

So even back then integrity, honesty and not being afraid to admit to making a mistake was what partly defined being a police officer was all about.   As a former Police Officer, I believe that we should be held accountable for our actions.  I will not say that I didn’t make mistakes during my 25 years in law enforcement.  The important thing is that I learned from those mistakes and throughout my entire career remembered what my father taught me.

To treat every person the same way you would expect to be treated.

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Tom Stassi
Tom Stassi
Thomas J. Stassi was a Marine Corps Vietnam Veteran having served 3 1/2 years from 1966 to 1969. He was sworn in as Syracuse Police Officer in 1970 having served for 20 years before retiring as a Detective in 1990. During his career he served in the Uniform Division, a Major Felony Unit investigating Homicides, Burglaries, Rapes, and was the recipient of "The Medal of Valor" award. Tom also worked as an undercover investigator in Gambling, Narcotics, and Prostitution. After his retirement, he worked in the Onondaga County District Attorneys Office for five years as a Senior Investigator.

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31 CONVERSATIONS

  1. Tom, what a great story! I know that your father would be quite proud to see you living the values he taught you. Indeed, we will all make mistakes along the way. What matters is how we use those mistakes to grow. I’m so excited to see you share your stories here. This is a special community and I know you will add great value!

    • Melissa, thanks again for your encouragement. I am already putting together a second story. My goal is to make future articles entertaining, yet trying to bring to light my real life experiences as a former police officer.

  2. Glad to see your first article here, Tom, after having shared the Friendship Bench with you several times.

    When I think about all the stories I have heard over the years from people who have served, I feel sorry for young people today who are not acculturated into groups with a shared purpose.
    A draft and serving your country doesn’t have to be in a military uniform. We have a lot of National Forest land to maintain; too many lonely elderly; plenty of other tasks where young people from all social strata could get to know that the others don’t bite.
    E Pluribus Unum.

  3. How often have we witnessed attacks on public and private figures because of something they did years or decades before — not necessarily crimes but errors of judgment?

    Integrity means acknowledge mistakes, taking responsibility, and committing to do better. The same principle applies to our evolution as a society. Demanding an unblemished past is both unrealistic and self-destructive.

    If we can’t learn from our mistakes, how can we improve? If we can’t improve, what’s the point of trying? And when we stop trying, we are surely doomed.

    Thank you for your service, Tom.

  4. Tom,

    Quite a story! Honest pays; you knew not about the ‘smuggled’ Heineken, and the because regardless of the pettiness of the ‘offence’, it was addressed in a similar way to that of a more serious breach of rules/regulations. Your father’s wise words, ‘treat every other person as you would expect to be treated’. I wish to salute you for your tenacity an service to your country and fellow citizens.

    Simon Lever
    Winchester, across The Pond
    Championing Positivity, Empathy and Kindness

  5. Welcome aboard Jarhead! Great story Tom and I will look forward to reading about more of your stories.

    I use to tell my trainees as their FTO that their integrity was their brand to maintain in order to keep their career. You either have it or you don’t — there is NO compromise! Semper Fi

  6. Tom – Welcome to the BC360 family. This community will encourage you in your writing and engage you with respect and thought leadership. And as you build a following, you will create wonderful online friendships. Great first post – and most importantly, Semper Fi, my friend.

  7. Thanks for that great story, Tom. Our daughter is a 16 year police vet and is currently a sgt. She would agree with you, including that officers make mistakes (as do all people, in all professions). We learn and grow from those mistakes. But, I think one of the key take-aways from your article is the need to take responsibility for one’s actions. Too few today are willing to do that.

    • Ken, thanks for your warm welcome and words of encouragement. God bless your daughter. The job today is more difficult and more dangerous than ever before. Give her my best.

  8. Thanks so much, Tom.

    I think we may learn from our parents and teachers that being transparent and vulnerable is risky, even if that was not the intent of their pushback. That lesson creates this tension between how we want to be and we we think we’re supposed to be. Too often, when we show up with total candor, we receive ‘correction,’ even if it’s subtle. I really appreciate the Deputy Chief, who focused on your disclosure rather than on your error. When we punish mistakes (and the beauty of your ship’s CO and the 1st Lt. – bilge detail, but no blot on your record), we may teach people to be afraid of taking risks, or to hide error, so nobody ever learns squat.

    What’s the lesson we teach when we punish mistakes?

    Here are a couple of snacks for thought on that topic:

    http://azalearning.com/aza-learning/we-must-be-mistaken/

    Be well,
    Mac

    • Mac, thank you for your warm welcome and words of encouragement. I did a copy and paste on the website you sent to me and I will print that. Thank you.

    • Dennis, thank you for your words of encouragement. The encouragement and the warm welcomes from everyone is very humbling. My hope is that I live up to the standards of the 360° Nation. I am working on my next article and will let you know when it’s ready. Thank you Tom.

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