CLINTON — After 41 years on the job, 39 of those years serving with the Kirkland Police Department, Chief Daniel J. English is retiring his position, with the top cop spot being passed to senior Officer Shawn Occhipinti.
Looking back on his long career, English said he was going to give it one more year in Kirkland, but a new opportunity helped him make his decision to leave this month.
“It’s time,” English said. “I started in 1979, part-time and moved to full-time in 1981. I was promoted to lieutenant in 1989-90, then to chief in 1995. I feel I pretty much built the department up to where it’s at. At one time we had seven full-time people, a bicycle patrol, an officer in the Drug Task Force, we had a Juvenile Aid Division, school resource officer, and the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program that’s come and gone.”
English said he actually started with the New Hartford Police Department in September of 1978, where his father worked as a part-time police officer. He attended the Mohawk Valley Police Academy in January 1979 sponsored by the NHPD. Upon completion of the academy, he took his first full-time position with the Ilion Police Department and later that year, moved laterally to the City of Sherrill before relocating to the Kirkland Police Department, once an opening became available.
English explained that after New Hartford, he actually started with the Village of Clinton Police, a department that ran side-by-side with the Kirkland Police Department from 1950 to 1994.
“I’ve always held true to the philosophy of ‘community policing,’” English said.
He explained that community policing means staying involved with the community, getting to know them, and understanding their concerns and considerations. English said he also believed in getting involved and setting a good example for the community, as well as his fellow officers.
“For me, tried and true, it’s what we’re all about,” he said. “We have to remember where we come from and who we’re protecting, that’s ‘community policing.’ It also means the community needs to help us as much as they expect us to help and and protect them.”
English said during his career in Kirkland he feels proud to have hired police officers that went on to have successful careers with other law enforcement agencies.
“Jon Owens, who is chief deputy for the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office, was one of my new officers, “English recalled. “Todd Hood, who is the Sheriff of Madison County, was one of my young officers years ago. Chris Ellis, who retired as a captain from the New York State Police, started here in the Town of Kirkland, and Todd Schrader, who is now with the Port St. Lucie Police Department. Also, Guy Bourgeau is a detective with the Boise Idaho Police Department.”
“He is responsible for everything I am today,” said Bourgeau by telephone from Boise. “I can’t remember a time when Dan wasn’t a cop. He was a cop when I met him and he’s the guy who launched my career. He was my mentor and just a spectacular human being. He embodies everything that’s good about being a cop, just the most solid, salt-of-the-earth type of guy.”
English is giving up the title as chief, but gains a new title as Director of Security. English accepted a new position with Upstate Cerebral Palsy, which began Monday, Sept. 23.
“This is a company that has over 3,900 employees, 38 buildings and over 100 vehicles,” said English, who will be working out of the company’s administrative offices on Burrstone Road.
English said with his departure the town has decided to restructure the KPD, without an acting Chief. That means they have to cut full-time positions to less than five.
“The town is taking the size of the department down to four full-timers,” English explained. “So the town is hiring Shawn as an administrative officer, and he’ll run the department. The chief’s position, from what I’m hearing, will probably be eliminated. The way the PBA (Police Benevolent Association) contract is written right now, if the chief is not available, the senior most member of the patrol staff, who is full-time, is the officer in charge.”
And English said he believes Officer Occhipinti will do just fine.
“In my opinion, the town does need to keep it’s own police department,” said English. “At this point I can’t control the direction in which it’s going, however, Shawn has enough of my training in him that he will continue to look out for and continue the community policing that I’ve instilled in him — and the rest of the staff — same.”
Occhipinti, who has 15-years experience with the KPD, will take the title Administrative Officer, and he said he’s looking forward to the new responsibilities.
“Along with my regular duties, I have a whole new list things I’ll be responsible for,” Occhipinti said. “Dealing with any kind of internal issues, not that there are any right now. Making the schedule, taking care of officers when they need time off, ordering cars...basically, anything that Chief English was responsible for, now falls into my wheelhouse.”
Occhipinti said he wanted to be a policeman since he was in grade-school and he was influenced by two men who made a substantial impact on his life.
“I remember when I was in the D.A.R.E. program in Clough Elementary School,” Occhipinti said. “There was a teaching officer by the name of Bruce Brement of the Rome Police Department. He came in and explained why drugs were bad for your body, and why not to do them. I would always have time at the end of the class to go up and talk to him, and for lack of a better way to say it...I would pick his brain about police work, and I got interested in it.”
Occhipinti said he got to know Officer Brement pretty well, and later, some of the other men who worked for the Rome Police Department.
“One other person I met who left a life-long lasting impression on me is now the current Rome Chief of Police, Kevin Beach,” Occhipinti said. “It was just the way he carried himself. Very professional, very impressive working his way up through the ranks from police officer to detective, to now Chief of Police. He was always somebody I looked up to.”
A graduate of the “old” Rome Free Academy, he stressed, Occhipinti attended Mohawk Valley Community College, where he earned his associate’s degree in criminal justice. Out of college, he worked as a security specialist for Rome City School District. From there, he became a supervisor for the Pyramid Corporation. While working for Pyramid, Occhipinti got the the opportunity to attend the Cazenovia College Police Academy, and upon completion, was hired by the KPD in 2004.
Occhipinti said he feels the Kirkland Police Department is presently in good standing.
“Retiring Chief English has worked very hard over the years and has been very diligent,” Occhipinti said. “ Making things work to the best of his ability and working with the budget that has been allocated to the department during his time as chief.”
Occhipinti also praised his fellow officers.
“I think we have a plethora of people who came into law enforcement who want to work and put forth the effort to get the job done,” he said. “The restructuring of the department I think is a good idea, and I look forward to working with the town supervisor and making this department the best it can be for the community”
Kirkland Town Supervisor Robert Meelan said he was happy for English and believes in Occhipinti.
“I think it’s a well-deserved retirement,” Meelan said. “He’s [English] been here 39 years I believe, 41 years in police work, and I think it’s well deserved. Will we have growing pains? Sure, we’ll have growing pains. You don’t take 39 years of knowledge and throw it in the garbage.”
“As far as Shawn taking over, it’s a temporary appointment, make sure he can do the job, but I’m pretty confident he can, and I’m looking forward to working with him,” the supervisor added.
English said he did offer to stay on as part-time chief, but Meelan said that’s not the direction the town is looking to go. English will be staying with the department part-time, but not as chief.
“I leave with mixed emotions,” English said. “But It’s been a pleasure, and I loved every day of it.”