By Elaine Springer
In one of the many changes happening in the Village of Trumansburg, residents bid farewell to Police Chief Thomas Ferretti, who has served the Village as chief since 1976. The Village of Trumansburg Police Department “dates back to at least the middle part of the 20th century when the New York State Police were still bunking troopers in private residences in lieu of building a barracks on this side of the lake,“ reports Village mayor Rordan Hart. Currently, the Village police respond to an average of 100 to 150 calls per month within the Village, as well as a handful of calls outside the Village, when requested by Tompkins County Dispatch. The department is staffed entirely by part-time officers, as it has been for most of Chief Ferretti’s tenure.
Ferretti has spent a lifetime serving community. He joined the Trumansburg Police Department (TBPD), which was located on Union Street where the phone company now resides when he started, after working his way to Sergent status for what is now the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department. Prior to that he was a patrolman for what is now the Cornell Police Department and served in the United States Navy for over four years. During a short stint as a milk truck driver, he met his wife, Jackie, along with what would become their four children. Four of nine total children, one of which they had together, and four more who are adopted. Out of this crew, they have welcomed over 25 grandchildren and over a dozen great-grandchildren.
In addition to building a large family, Chief Ferretti takes great pride in building a department that was once fairly invisible, into one that is visible and active in the community. He says the best part of his career has been “Just to make a good police department. It’s a nice way to meet the public - you walk around and take care of them, and take care of their complaints. I try to always tell my (officers) ‘When you are walking down the street, and you see someone and you are in uniform, say hello, and treat everyone as you would like to be treated.’ Obviously, it must have worked since I’ve been here for 42 years.” He goes on to say, “I think we did our job, we did it the best we could. We solved crimes, and solved problems and helped people and the youth in town.” Indeed the department was ahead of the curve when it comes to school resource officers when in the 1970s and early 1980s his officers were active in the school, eating lunch with students and playing ball during recess. He says, “I always was a person who liked to experiment with new things and new ideas, and I had a good crew that helped me.”
Many current and past officers in the Sheriff’s Department and beyond either got their start out of the police academy at the TBPD or were mentored by Ferretti, who encouraged them to seek advanced positions in their full-time departments. Included in this group is current Sheriff Ken Lansing, who, in addition to working full-time in other departments, worked as a part-time officer in Trumansburg for 25 years.
As he departs his post as chief, Ferretti’s message to the public and passion for the department he has built is clear. “Be the nice people that you are, and support the police department, and the department will support you.”
When Ferretti issued his letter of retirement on June 12, Mayor Hart and the Village Board were put to the hefty task of replacing an institution, of which the selection process can be difficult. The majority of the pool of qualified candidates are already employed as full-time officers with the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department, the New York State Police, or in other local departments. Salaries for chief’s in other jurisdictions range from $75,000 to $120,000, which far exceeded the Village of Trumansburg budget. It is hard to sway a qualified officer who is employed full-time to accept a position that would reduce their income. Enter Joe Nelson, who recently retired from the New York State Police.
Nelson is welcomed to the Village with 26 years of experience with the New York State Police. He began his journey in serving his community at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, where he spent his youth, and eventually grew into an employee throughout high school and college. Nelson never considered a career in law enforcement, but was encouraged by his supervisor to take the State Police officer exam. Of this encouragement by his supervisor, Nelson notes, “Long story short, he was quite right.” Among other posts, Nelson has served on the Community Narcotics Enforcement Team, as well as a school resource officer in Marathon and BOCES.
Nelson’s primary reward for serving as a law enforcement officer echoes Ferretti’s sentiments and resides in serving the community and helping people. “There is more to law enforcement than arresting someone. It is about being there as a resource, helping people when they ask questions. That’s what’s rewarding, that’s what’s fun. When you feel like you are helping someone resolve a problem, even if it’s directions of how to get someplace. You are helping people.”
In this new position as chief, Nelson is looking forward to the challenge of leading the small department in a community he loves. This certainly is a change for him as well as the Trumansburg community. Of this change of the guard, Mayor Hart says, “All change brings some challenges, as well as opportunity. The challenge is obvious – replacing someone who has been a one-man institution in the Village for nearly as long as I’ve been alive. The opportunities are just as large as well. I am particularly excited to work with Joe on several projects, including intra-departmental updates, taking a look at how we staff the department, some of our policies and procedures, and how the department interfaces with the school, to name just a few. Joe brings a unique combination of experience, perspective, and temperament that I really believe is exactly what Trumansburg needs in our first new chief in over 40 years.”
As stated in a press release issued by the Village of Trumansburg, “according to standard procedure, an ‘Officer in Charge’ will oversee operations of the department during the transition.” Nelson will be officially appointed at the Aug. 13 Board of Trustees meeting beginning at 7 p.m. in the Village Hall. He will be sworn in on Tuesday, Aug. 14 at 10 a.m. in the Village Hall meeting room.
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