To protect and serve. It’s a motto police forces around the world have adopted with the aim of protecting citizens and serving the public. For his 43 years in law enforcement, 33 of which were with the Garden City Police Department, it’s a phrase recently retired Juvenile Detective Rich Pedone embraced with every fiber of his being. Stepping down after spending nearly half his adult life intimately entwined with the lives of the village’s residents and their children as a community liaison means this new chapter of his life is a transition the Islip native will have to get used to.
“I think it’s bittersweet. I truly loved my job and when you stop doing something after 43 years—let’s just say I didn’t think being a cop would validate me. But I’m not a cop anymore. It’s an adjustment, like anything else. I don’t like change,” he said with a laugh.
With mandatory retirement looming in April, Pedone wound up leaving the job on his own terms following a car accident he had last December that involved a teenage girl with a learner’s permit ramming the side of his squad car. While the detective initially shrugged off the swollen knee he received, the continued discomfort found him seeking medical treatment, where he was diagnosed with a torn meniscus. Surgery in March followed, where he was informed by the doctor that, “I had 65-year-old knees and there was only so much that he could do.” Following post-surgical rehab, Pedone returned in June, but something just didn’t feel right.
“I just didn’t feel like I should be in a position where I have to be in the position to protect the kids if I can’t properly protect myself. So that was the sign that I really shouldn’t be working anymore,” he admitted “So that was what really pushed me to retire earlier than I was going to because next April I was done. So maybe that was a sign from up above. I don’t know. All I know is I got to go out on my terms instead of having the state saying I was 65 and done.”
Pedone is married to his childhood sweetheart Elizabeth, who recently retired from a 40-year-plus career as a delivery nurse at North Shore-LIJ in Bay Shore (formerly Southside Hospital). Pedone began his career majoring in criminal justice at Farmingdale State University and working as an on-campus parking attendant alongside the university police, who suggested he take the police test. Stints as a university police officer at Farmingdale and Stony Brook Universities, and subsequent time as part of the New York State Parks Police followed. Pedone took the Nassau County Police test and received offers from a number of municipalities including Lake Success and Floral Park before he decided to go with Garden City. It’s a decision he’s been forever grateful to have made back in 1986. Five years into his career with the village, then-Police Commissioner Ernie Cipullo called Pedone into his office to offer him the role of a liaison in the department’s newly formed one-person community policing initiative. Along with a more straightforward 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. tour, Pedone would be the direct contact for merchants on Seventh Street and Franklin Avenue. Along the way, Pedone was involved with working the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program with the school. That meant rotating through the Garden City Schools for five weeks at a time, which enabled Pedone to develop relationships with both students and their families.
“So I spent five weeks with each fifth-grade class in Garden City and developed a relationship with them. When they become teenagers, which obviously eventually happens, and if they get involved with something, they already know who I am. So if I have to knock on the door and sit down with the parents and the kid because there’s a problem, they know who I am and trust me and [they know] that I’m not there to hurt them. I became like a social worker to be honest with you,” Pedone said. “So when a child made a mistake and did something wrong, I did everything I could to keep them out of the system. The easiest thing to do would have been to go to the house, tell them they were under arrest, put handcuffs on them and process them. But I tried to keep them out of the system. Thinking back on all of those years, I think there are a lot of families that I hope appreciated that then and the kids appreciate it now that they’re older.”
Current Garden City Police Commissioner Kenneth Jackson expounded on the good that Pedone did for the community.
“He served 33 years with the village and he has over 40 years experience with three other jobs. He’s been our youth officer since 1995,” Jackson said. “He’s a great friend and a great youth detective. I believe with his teachings, he has helped a lot of children and maybe saved some lives.”
With no immediate post-retirement plans outside of driving down to Florida with his wife and daughter Rachel to visit family, Pedone is amazed at how quickly his law enforcement career came and went. The idea of appreciating this journey is something he advises to police rookies new to the job.
“They dread how much time is ahead of them on the job and I ask hem why they’re thinking like that. They’re 23 years old. I tell them to enjoy the job,” he said. “Wisdom is wasted on the youth and as you get older, you see things so differently. Enjoy the ride and embrace being a police officer. I’ve enjoyed it all and I have no complaints.”