In a column two weeks ago (May 30), I left off the conversation with Tom Andrews, chief of Police in Cortland, talking about letting officers create their own special niche while also doing their regular day-to-day police work.
Three specialties in the department include a detective, school resource officer and an accident specialist.
"Our school resource officer spends time at the schools and is known by the kids," Andrews says. "They trust him. He listens to what they have to say. He's also been instrumental in reaching out to them through social media which has helped a lot."
"With these areas covered, it frees me up to concentrate on some things that, especially in a small agency, you don't get progressive training on. Things like figuring out a one million dollar budget and where it needs to go and do it all correctly," he said. "I'm a cop, it's what I'm trained to do, so this is all new to me. But I'm learning how to do that."
As the chief, Andrews has had to acquire a whole new skill set that involves interacting with other department heads and city officials. He's also learning the intricacies of zoning and other civil laws that, while outside his jurisdiction, are still items he needs to know to better direct citizens to the proper authorities when they call. It has caused him to explore different aspects of his day beyond just the police work.
I talked with the chief about what the toughest cases are. He stated that dealing with kids is particularly difficult.
"Lots of people have trouble with their children at 16, 17, 18 - big problems, not just a kid's normal-type screw-up. It's these kids who have chronic issues and the parents say to us 'here, you solve this, we can't.' If parents don't do it at home, then it's up to the schools and if they can't make a difference, kids end up with the police. We can try to move them in the right direction, but if they're resistant, how can we fix that?" he asked.
Andrews is also concerned that officers not become jaded by certain case types.
"When an officer constantly deals with people who are repetitive offenders, it's easy to reach a mindset that says 'everybody's like this'. If it goes on too long, the officer no longer cares about the individual; he's just out there to do a job and go home."
"Adding to the problem is that this job gives you a tremendous amount of responsibility to and authority over individuals. We have the authority to use physical force to resolve a situation. There is no other profession in our society that is allowed to do that. As an officer, I need to remember my responsibility to each individual and use the least amount of persuasion / force to remedy the situation," he said.
'In our department, we deal with people professionally, try to resolve the problem without physical force unless absolutely necessary and don't antagonize. Our guys get satisfaction from resolving issues successfully."
I was impressed with Andrew's level-headed approach and curious about who has influenced him most in life.
"I would say my mom and my dad. They gave me the option to think for myself early on. They steered me just enough that they allowed me to get into some trouble, knowing it wasn't going to end well, but that I would learn a valuable lesson. Looking back, I'm not sure how they did that, but it worked."
Since he had been an officer in Cortland for nearly the full tenure of the former chief, I asked Andrews if he'd had a list of things he wanted to change when he took over the chief's chair.
"The poster on my wall says 'Change is Good.' I wanted to make changes that made good sense. We threw out the old rule book and started fresh with everyone getting on the same page, and everyone finally being treated the same. Rules apply to everyone equally," stated Andrews. "We needed to get ourselves back to a place where we were proud to be police officers and where our community was proud of us. I think we've done that."
Judging from the new and improved attitude of the Cortland community toward its police department, I'd have to agree with Chief Andrews: Change is good!
June Jagunic is a resident of Cortland. You can email her at email@example.com