May 09, 2012 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
Skaneateles Police Chief H. Lloyd Perkins III has never been afraid of change. In 42 years of police work he has held eight different positions from trainee up to chief; instituted numerous policy, training and even cultural changes in his departments; and moved with the times to keep up to speed on the latest technological innovations and necessities in law enforcement.
After a recent announcement he made at the April 26 village board meeting, Perkins’ newest challenge will be: retirement.
“One thing I pride myself on is my belief that change is not a bad thing,” Perkins said during a recent interview with the local media in which he surveyed his long career and his plans for retirement. “I do have a bucket list. One thing I would like to do is ride my bike cross country.”
Perkins, who will turn 62 in June, has been chief of the Skaneateles Police Department for nearly seven years. In that time, he has instituted numerous changes and improvements in the Skaneateles PD, including achieving state accreditation; and now he has decided it is time to move on.
“It’s just time; it’s been 43 years,” he simply said.
Perkins was born and raised in Camillus, the youngest of three children. He attended West Genesee High School, graduating in 1969. During high school he worked full time in a fiberglass insulation process plant, which he found a “terrible job.”
During his senior year, Perkins’ father, Harry, who was assistant chief of the Fairmount Fire Department, asked his 19-year-old son what he wanted to do with his life, and mentioned the police department. “It sounded good,” Perkins said. So he went to an open house, took the test, passed and went to the Syracuse police academy in 1970.
“It was a time [during the Vietnam War] when not a lot of people wanted to be police officers,” Perkins said. “I liked it. I liked that it was a challenge, that you come to work never knowing what would happen.”
After graduation, Perkins joined the Camillus Police Department as an officer. In the early 1970s, he married his wife Anne and they moved to a house in Onondaga, where they still live.
Perkins spent 35 years in the Camillus Police Department working up through the ranks from officer, to detective, detective sergeant, staff sergeant, lieutenant, captain and, ultimately, chief from 1995 to 2005.
During his years on the force in Camillus, Perkins experienced and learned numerous lessons. The most fun he had was as a motorcycle officer riding a Harley around the streets. “That was a great time,” he said. He loved his years as a detective, the challenge of taking a case and discovering the perpetrator. There was no one great satisfying moment for him during his years on the force, Perkins said, just “knowing that you did a good job and gave it your best, the conclusion that people are safer and the bad guy is off the street.”
But the job of the police is not all happy moments. It can also be frightening, stressful and disturbing, laced with terrible moments that can stick in the mind for the rest of one’s life.
“Child cases are the most disturbing,” Perkins said. “It’s the hardest thing to tell parents at three in the morning that their child is dead. It never goes away — you never forget that.”
Perkins has been shot at, has faced gunfire, knives and other weapons. But fear, he said, for most police is something that comes after. He recalled an incident when he was captain in Camillus of a “drug deal gone bad,” that included gunfire and hostages. Twelve shots were fired, nobody was hit and the perpetrators were caught.
“A situation like that, your training kicks in, you do the job, and when it’s over that’s when you think about it,” Perkins said.
One of Perkins’ proudest achievements in his 43 years of police work started with an unfortunate incident that ended with a positive outcome.
Also in Camillus, during his years as chief, Perkins dealt with an incident that began as a simple parking space dispute and turned into a major race relations issue. “The officers involved were not racist in any way, but the way it all happened, you just couldn’t defend it,” he said. When the case was over and resolved, Perkins decided to “get in front” of the race issue, the possible ramifications of the case, and created what became the “Building Community Bridges” program.
Perkins invited the town board, community groups and leaders, and all interested parties to help the department rewrite its Internal Affairs policy to ensure fairness in the way the department handled all citizens. “We wanted everyone’s input. We had seven or eight meetings and rewrote the entire policy, although not many changes were actually made,” Perkins said.
The program — and Chief Perkins — ultimately won state, national and international civil rights awards, and it has been replicated and used as a model for other police departments around the country.
“We demonstrated to everyone that everyone should be treated fairly and the same. We took a very proactive action. If police can’t treat people fair, how can we expect people to treat the police fair?” Perkins said.
The Building Community Bridges program was just one of many ways in which Perkins worked for better cooperation and understanding between the police department and the local community. As the history of the Camillus Police Department, on the town of Camillus website, states, “Chief Perkins had made a special effort to improve the police department’s image. Through talks to schools and civic groups by the chief and his officers, town citizens now have a better understanding of the role and function of the department.”
Perkins retired from the Camillus Police Department in 2005, after which, the same year, he was appointed chief of the Skaneateles Police Department. “I just needed a new challenge,” he said of the change. The Camillus department had a command structure in place, the staff all knew what to do and did a “great job” completing their duties.
Perkins had a long personal connection to Skaneateles. Growing up, he spent a lot of time in the village and the town, especially while visiting his aunt and uncle, who lived on a farm on Covey Road in Spafford.
“I remember my father and I used to fish off the wall in Thayer Park. I’d watch the poles and he’d get us a pizza, and we’d fish until one or two in the morning on a Friday or Saturday night,” Perkins said.
Perkins was hired in 2005 as Skaneateles police chief with a task to get state accreditation for the department within his first year. “We did it in six months,” he said.
Accreditation, according to the state criminal justice website, is a way of helping police agencies evaluate and improve their overall performance. It provides formal recognition that an organization meets or exceeds general expectations of quality in the field. Accreditation acknowledges the implementation of policies that are conceptually sound and operationally effective.
For a department to be accredited, it must meet 133 standards in various organizational issues. The state spends three days reviewing a department’s accreditation potential, and then reviews it every five years.
“It’s a credential and an honor to meet the highest standards New York state offers to law enforcement,” Perkins said.
Also during the past seven years under Perkins, the Skaneateles Police Department has improved its training and equipment, and improved its contact and openness with the community. They have also invested in a youth intervention program that works with kids who break the law, by meeting with parents (and sometimes their attorneys) and school district officials to create a contract with the offending child to promise to reconcile the action and work to avoid future law breaking. This contract is done instead of sending a child straight to court for punishment.
“Kids are going to make mistakes, but if you work with them and their parents you can usually fix it,” Perkins said. “We’ve not had one [contract] yet we’ve had to go back on.”
Probably the darkest day of his tenure in Skaneateles was when, in 2006, he had to arrest the former police chief, Jack McNeil, for stealing more than $3,000 in village parking meter money while he was chief, Perkins said.
He said the department has been lucky that it has not had to deal with any really “huge” police issues while he was chief. One thing he has learned, however, is that parking is the biggest issue the Skaneateles department faces.
“Nobody likes getting parking tickets,” he said. “Parking [enforcement] is the biggest pain in the neck, but it is a necessary evil because otherwise there would be no parking available in the village. People would just park on the street and leave the car there all day long.”
Another major issue he has had to face in Skaneateles – as all communities have faced in recent years – is the budget crunch. One way the department has dealt with it was to reduce its full-time staff from five in 2005 to two today, and use instead multiple part-time officers to cut down on health insurance and retirement costs.
“The part-timers absolutely do a great job, but it’s harder to keep them up to speed on community issues when they only work a couple of times a week or even a month,” Perkins said.
Perkins is set to retire sometime before the end of this year, he said, although he has some business to attend before he goes. When he was hired he was tasked with creating a succession plan for the department to help promote from within if possible for future chiefs.
Perkins already has told the village board and publicly stated that he recommends Sgt. Martin Stevens be his successor. “Clearly n my opinion he’s the right person,” Perkins said. “He cares about the village, he cares about the kids, he grew up here and does a great job.”
Perkins also wants to see the new police station, set to be built with new village office in the old Fennell Street fire station building, “well on its way” before he leaves.
Perkins has a few ideas about life after retirement, including bicycling across the United States and skydiving. He also enjoys playing golf and fishing, and will do some law enforcement consultation work.
“It will be bittersweet,” he said. “I’ll miss the people. Everyone always says that when you retire you don’t miss the job, you miss the people.”
Perkins is leaving the department but not the area. He and his wife will remain in Central New York for three seasons of the year, but probably head south during the cold winter months, he said.
At the end of the day, after looking back on 43 years of a life in police work, Perkins has his moments of pride, but really he just wanted in his career to do a good job.
“Police departments can never make everyone happy. It’s a necessary evil in many ways,” he said. “You do the best you can. Your goal is to make the community safe, and Skaneateles is a very safe community. There’s crime all around us, but Skaneateles remains safe.”
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.