Johnston named Altamont police chief

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer
Changing of the guard: Jason Johnston, left, will become Altamont's police chief when long-time chief, Todd Pucci, right, retires in August. They are standing on Tuesday in front of the department's new Ford Explorer, a hybrid vehicle.

ALTAMONT — Altamont has named longtime village patrolman and recent Cohoes detective Jason Johnston as its new police chief. 

Johnston has always wanted to be a cop. He has pictures that his mother took; in them, he’s only 7 or 8 years old, and he’s wearing a police officer’s hat.

“I’ve always wanted to be one,” he said.

The announcement was made at the July 20 board of trustees meeting.

Johnston will take over for current Chief Todd Pucci on Sept. 1

“Jay was the perfect choice for this position,” said Pucci. “He’s more than qualified. He’s from the area. He knows a lot of people in this area. He grew up in Knox. And he’s just one of the smartest police officers that I know. So I couldn’t think of a better choice.”

Johnston would have been Pucci’s recommendation to the board had it asked him for one, but it didn’t. Pucci said Johnston would have been the recommendation of every person in the department.

“Everyone’s very happy that Jay was the choice,” he said. 

There were a dozen applicants for the position, according to Mayor Kerry Dineen. 

“Officer Johnson was selected for the Police Chief Position because of his vast police experience combined with his knowledge of our Community and our Village Police Department,” Dineen told The Enterprise by email. “Jason has worked for the Altamont Police department for many years and his understanding of community policing, along with his experience in communications, will make him an asset to the Village and leading our Police Department into the future.”

She continued, “I am confident that choosing Officer Johnson for the Chief of Police position will be a seamless transition for our residents as well as our officers that he has worked so closely with.”

Johnston retired from the Cohoes Police Department about a year ago, the same time Pucci did.

In Cohoes, Pucci was in charge of patrol officers while Johnston ran the detectives.

Pucci and Johnston went to the Altamont police academy at the same time; in total, they’ve worked four jobs together.

In addition to working together at the Altamont and Cohoes police departments, they first met when Pucci became the store manager of Pocket Change, an arcade in Colonie Center, and Johnston was an employee at the arcade. The two would go on to work at Sears together, in security, Pucci said. 

Johnston said he applied for the chief’s job because he’s from here, just up the hill on Knox Cave Road. A 1995 Berne-Knox-Westerlo graduate, Johnston said that Altamont has always had a sort of hometown feel for him, he said, he’s always enjoyed the village and its residents.

Johnston became a cop when he was 20. He left college to attend the police academy because he was offered a job in Cohoes.

Unlike Pucci, Johnston does not come from a family of cops. His father worked at General Electric for nearly 40 years, he said. His closest link to law enforcement was a grandfather who was a Rensselaer County Court judge. 

In Cohoes, Johnston worked his way up the ranks and retired as the commander of the detective bureau. “I was on call constantly there,” he said of being a detective in Cohoes, so he would come to Altamont only to work special events.

After doing the math, Johnston figured he’d already hit the maximum retirement payout in Cohoes after 21 years on the job.

Pucci would have needed a special waiver from the state to keep working. Johnston said it’s his understanding that he’s going to need one as well, eventually. With a Sept. 1 start date, he said the village will have a “significant chunk” of 2022 to figure out the waiver situation. 

 At age 44, Johnston said he’d like to be chief for a long time. 

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