Sirens in a life soundtrack

Warwick. Warwick Police Chief John Rader tells a little about his path to becoming police chief.

| 12 Nov 2022 | 10:45

People who suddenly interrupted a meal, a game, conversation or sleep to ride away amid flashing lights and sirens surrounded John Rader, growing up in Greenwood Lake. By day, his father was Greenwood Lake postmaster, but on off hours he was a volunteer on call with Greenwood Lake Volunteer Ambulance Corps and Volunteer Fire Department.

“I remember him dropping what he was doing and running out. It was a way of life,” said Rader.

Next door lived the Greenwood Lake police chief who had a similarly emergency-prone life that was intriguing.

When, at 26, Rader told his father he wanted to be a police officer, his father pointed out that he had mentioned that when he first learned to talk.

“I liked the excitement and sirens. I like helping people,” Rader said, recalling his path to the Warwick Police Department, recently becoming police chief. He sat at the desk in his office as he spoke, expressing reluctance about telling his story to a reporter.

“Police work is all team work,” he said. “Writing about me takes me out of my comfort zone. It’s not my style. No one works by themselves. I just scrubbed the refrigerator. I did that myself. Otherwise it’s all teamwork.”

But this reporter insisted that the community would want to know more about who is now police chief.

First Responder first experiences

At 18, Rader had followed his father into the Greenwood Lake Fire Department and Ambulance Corps.

“It was all about learning,” he said. “Growing up, I had good exposure to the firehouse, and I knew the senior members. I fell into place, and they made sure I stayed in my place. I was a sponge, seen but not heard.”

Nor does he want to say much now when asked about First Responder moments that left strong impressions or affected his policing. He admitted he was editing what came to mind.

“There’s nothing I can say that I did. You’re always part of a team. I was on the team for 22 years,” he said, referring to his time with the Warwick Police Department. “Now I’m more involved with business and planning. The career changes you, one moment a time, seeing people at their best and worst.”

He did mention a couple of recollections.

During his first house fire, a rental bungalow, at some point in the cleanup he learned that someone they had not rescued had died. The house had been “fully involved” when they arrived.

He also recalled going to a search warrant training with the New York Police Department on Sept. 11, 2001. He was in Brooklyn Navy Yard when the towers fell. He and another officer took a boat to the scene, where he directed traffic. Rader recalls only the search for survivors.

“I didn’t see any survivors. I saw the efforts of the fire department, police and EMS dealing with it.” He got home at 5 a.m. on Sept. 12.

He had attended SUNY Orange while working for a local family’s retail lumber business, a job that he had begun at 15. As he advanced to sales and management in the job, he married and had two children.

“I wasn’t unhappy in the lumber job,” he said.

But in 1993, when he was 26, he yielded to his old interest in policing and took a part-time job with the Greenwood Lake Police Department, then joined full time in 1995. He shifted to Warwick PD in 2000 and went through the Orange County Police Academy.

His years volunteering with the ambulance and fire department had prepared him for this career, Rader said. “It takes the whole shift. No one does it alone, whether you’re part time or full time, on duty or off duty. Crime doesn’t know the difference.”

Crime’s wellspring

As for local crime patterns, he said, “The majority of crimes stem from the opiate crisis. It’s steady.” He has seen no decline.

Opiates lurk behind most domestic violence, larceny and car accidents, Rader said. In 2021, Warwick police responded to 193 domestic violence calls. Beyond enforcement efforts, police are prepared with Narcan they use to try to revive people from opioid overdoses, and officers are members of the Warwick Valley Prevention Coalition. The department also works with Hope Not Handcuffs, whose staff and volunteers provide assistance into treatment for drug users who want it.

“Crime numbers are steady related to narcotics,” Rader said, and with the legalization of cannabis, he predicts numbers will rise. He dismisses the possible benefit of products verifiably untainted by fentanyl and other drugs. He points to the availability of cannabis with no odor, whether in vaping products or gummies.

“How does a five-year-old know the difference between gummies and candy? People ingest drugs at all ages, and you don’t know until there’s a reaction. I don’t see any good from legalization. Marijuana is stronger than it used to be,” he said, as growers often cultivate it to increase the THC. “We’re trying to educate families.”

Building on McGovern foundation

Rader took over as police chief when Tom McGovern retired in May.

“We don’t need to change anything, just build on what he’s done and continue community outreach,” said Rader.

A recent effort in that direction was the Junior Police Academy, a summer program that attracted 40 participants, 10-15 years old.

“We want to engage kids and expose them to a potential career path. It’s relationship building, connecting with the whole family. We give a lesson on DWI, mostly from the enforcement perspective, with guidelines for recognizing it.”

National Night Out was another community relations opportunity.

“It’s a fun atmosphere rather than stressed,” he said. “It helps keep us close with the community, so if something doesn’t look right, we hear about it. We have police in all the schools. It builds trust.”

Asked about the recent police department reform required by NYS Executive Order 203, Rader said that outcomes included having body cameras for police and decisions to focus more on community engagement and New York State accreditation.

‘The police department reform panel had initially been split on pursuing accreditation,” Rader said. The panel, “stakeholders” chosen by Town Supervisor Mike Sweeton, questioned the value of devoting the necessary time.

“We learned what was important to people,” said Rader.

Now he expects accreditation to be complete by early in 2023, with its 110 standards of excellence. Some standards include several topics involving policy and procedure. For instance, for the property room, the department would have to demonstrate their policies for receiving, saving and returning evidence and destroying drugs. Hiring standards would also have to meet precise standards. Current policies are posted on the Town of Warwick website.

Another department change in 2023, long sought by police, will be a modification of shift work. Rather than working shifts that change week to week, a challenge for body, mind and family life, shifts will change quarterly, with choice according to seniority. This was not Rader’s doing, he said.

The issue, which had come up previously, was negotiated between the Police Benevolent Association and town officials. When quarterly shifts had been tried before, the public had little contact with police who worked the midnight shift, said Town Supervisor Mike Sweeton. With more rotation, the public has more opportunity to encounter all the officers.

“You have to separate out your feelings”

Late in the interview, Rader described an incident in 2003 that had left an impression, when he had gone to do a welfare check alone. A 55-year-old man, James Keating, failed to show up at work at FedEx, which was unusual for him.

Was Rader afraid, going into the house by himself?

“I always have a heightened level of concern,” he said.

He found Keating upstairs, stabbed to death. Rader declined to say where “upstairs.”

Was that upsetting?

“You separate personal emotion from the work,” he said. “You have to be able to separate the emotion while having empathy for what people are going through, whether a heart attack, an assault or a domestic conflict. You have to separate out your feelings to do your best for people.”

In that situation, a house where he had found a man murdered, he said, “I always try to look at the big picture. I was surprised, but in the big picture, the questions were, was anyone else in that condition in the house? Was a suspect in the house?”

Seventeen years would pass before the murderer was found, Rader said.

“Experiences change you daily”

As for addressing the stress of such a job, which EO 203 police department reform required, several avenues have been explored.

“Fitness instructors are available, but it’s not forced,” said Rader. “Nutrition is a work in progress.”

Chaplains have been interviewed to be incorporated in police operations and do ride-alongs, “seeing through the police car windshield.”

“On our side, that builds trust,” Rader said. “If it helps one officer, it’s worthwhile. We have several chaplains available. They expose us to their places of worship and open their doors to us. The officers build relationships with chaplains and congregations.”

The ability to separate himself from feelings that may lurk in a challenging moment developed with “training and time.”

“Early exposure to the ambulance and fire department gave me a foundation,” Rader said. “Experiences change you daily, learning to be at your best when people are at their worst.”

He also stands back from his new position.

“I’m a place holder. There were many before me, and there will be many after me. Now I’m getting my bearings with the increased level of responsibility, understanding the new responsibilities and building on what’s been built, to make sure people do their best and go home at the end of the day.”

No one works by themselves. I just scrubbed the refrigerator. I did that myself. Otherwise it’s all teamwork. - John Rader
You separate personal emotion from the work,” he said. “You have to be able to separate the emotion while having empathy for what people are going through, whether a heart attack, an assault or a domestic conflict. You have to separate out your feelings to do your best for people. - John Rader