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The "cop's cop" in charge. Nassau PBA elects new President, James McDermott

Feb 11, 2017
  • nassau county pba, james mcdermott

Long Island Herald

Wantagh resident named police union president
February 7, 2017

James McDermott, a 53-year-old North Wantagh resident, said that his five siblings weren’t surprised when he became a police officer 33 years ago. After all, they had watched him patrol the halls of MacArthur High School, making sure his classmates weren’t bullied.

McDermott didn’t always aspire to a career in law enforcement. But his father, Patrick, a New York City firefighter, woke him up early one Saturday morning when he was 16 and said, “Come on, you’re taking the cop test.”

“I said, ‘What do you mean? It’s Saturday,’” McDermott recalled with a chuckle.
The process of becoming a New York City police officer began in earnest when he was 19, he said, adding, “Right away, I felt like I was home.”

After decades of serving the NYPD and the Nassau County Police Department, McDermott recently took on a new role, as president of the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association, which represents nearly 2,000 officers. He was elected to the most powerful position in the union on Jan. 30, having run unopposed.

He is a veteran union leader as well. He was elected a PBA delegate for the 5th Precinct in 1995, a trustee in 2001 and the union’s sergeant-at-arms in 2005.

McDermott succeeds James Carver, who retired this year, as president. Carver said he thought that McDermott’s 22 years of experience in the PBA would serve him well in his new, sometimes challenging position.

“He has the respect of the membership, and he is well prepared for this position,” Carver said. “I wish him and the board success going forward.”

McDermott noted that many members of the Nassau County Police Department are from his hometown and surrounding communities like Seaford, Levittown, Massapequa and Hicksville. He said that an appreciation for law enforcement has become part of the culture of these communities, because many young men and woman heard stories over the years from their neighbors who were in the police force about how rewarding their jobs were.

“Most cops are me — they’re parents, brothers, sisters, neighbors,” McDermott said. “They are part of the community.”

Unlike some of his colleagues, however, he was the only member of his family to become a police officer. He said he initially planned to study engineering at Penn State University, but changed his mind and “bounced around” in different programs of study at Nassau Community College before he was admitted to the NYPD Police Academy at age 20.

McDermott patrolled Bedford-Stuyvesant and East New York for the first three years of his career. He was assigned to a special unit called Total Patrol Concept, which focused on quality-of-life issues. “It was the craziest place on the planet back then,” he recalled. “I was making crack arrests before they were calling it crack. And when you’re 20 years old, you think you’re invincible.”

McDermott made what he said was a difficult decision to leave the NYPD and join the NCPD in 1987, starting over as a Nassau Police Academy recruit. He was assigned to the 5th Precinct, and went on to patrol Elmont and Lakeview for about two decades.

He was named the 5th Precinct Cop of the Month three times, and won numerous awards and commendations for meritorious service and excellence, according to a PBA press release. Noting that he has had strong relationships with people in the diverse neighborhoods in which he has served, he said that as PBA president, one of his chief priorities will be community outreach.

“There is a narrative out there that police officers are waking up and thinking about killing people — that’s insanity,” he said. “We have to try to get rid of that narrative and speak to the kids. They need to know that we’re the exact opposite of the enemy. We’re the good guys.”

McDermott said that, as president, he wants to ensure that police officers have the best training available and are provided with the most up-to-date equipment and facilities in order to better protect the public. More specifically, he said that he would confer with PBA trustees and delegates from the 7th Precinct, in Seaford, about the quality and location of the stationhouse.

“The building is an old farmhouse, and it’s a terrible facility,” he said. “That’s part of morale, too. You should be going to a police facility. It shouldn’t be something that’s falling apart at the seams.”

McDermott also plans to push for the re-establishment of precincts that were merged under a 2012 consolidation plan. The 3rd Precinct, in Williston Park, absorbed the 6th Precinct, in Manhasset, and Levittown’s 8th Precinct merged with the 2nd Precinct, in Woodbury. The South Shore’s stations — the 1st, 4th, 5th and 7th — remain operational.

Saying that he has “literally kissed the Blarney Stone” — his mother, Mary, is a native of Kerry, Ireland — McDermott explained that he is ready to speak up on behalf of all PBA members. “I’m a cop’s cop,” he said. “I’ve been in their shoes, and I respect the job that they’re doing.”

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