Guilderland Police Chief Lawlor passes torch to McNally 

Captain Daniel McNally

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair
Captain Daniel McNally of the Guilderland Police, who will replace Carol Lawlor as chief in mid-January, has a mural of heroic moments in recent American history above his desk.

GUILDERLAND — Carol Lawlor, only the third chief in the history of the Guilderland Police Department, will retire in mid-January, and the town board voted on Tuesday night to approve Captain Daniel McNally to be the fourth.

Lawlor, 62, has been an officer in Guilderland for just over four decades. She described the work of the police during her years in the top post as “very steady, very calm, very progressive.” She is proud that the department has become accredited and of its many innovative programs. 

McNally, 55, joined the force 32 years ago. He is the director of the town’s Emergency Medical Services and also heads the fire investigation unit, the department’s police-dog program, the emergency response team, and the field training officer program, although he emphasizes teamwork and says he does not do any of that alone. 

During a period of transition, he said, he will delegate some of his responsibilities. 

Town Supervisor Peter Barber said that the interviewing committee met with “four very well-qualified candidates,” including current Guilderland officers and people from other departments. 

“It’s a very limited pool because of the leadership responsibilities, so I think there’s a lot of self-selecting that takes place,” Barber said. 

“I think he has had a very rich career with both the police and EMS, and he has been very instrumental, along with the chief and the deputy chief, in creating a top-notch and probably the best law-enforcement agency in the area,” Barber said of McNally. 

At Tuesday night’s town board meeting, the supervisor thanked Deputy Chief Curtis Cox, who also applied for the job, for his “numerous years and stellar service.” Cox’s application made the interview committee’s job particularly difficult, Barber said, because both he and McNally “have served our department so exceptionally well.” 

Carol Lawlor’s salary for 2018 was $112,046 and for 2019 was $114,847. 

McNally’s annual salary will be $117,144 upon his appointment in mid-January, said the town’s comptroller, Darci Efaw. 

McNally’s swearing-in ceremony is now tentatively scheduled for Jan. 17 at 3 p.m., according to Barber. 

 

Lawlor

Set to retire after working for 41 years with the same police force, Chief Carol Lawlor says police work is all she ever wanted to do.

 “I’ve had the best job I could ever ask for,” she said. 

Lawlor lives in Altamont. She and husband, John Tashjian, a former senior investigator with the Guilderland Police Department, have three grown children.  

The couple met on the job. Tashjian was a very good investigator, Lawlor said. He retired when she became chief. 

There were only about six officers on the force when Lawlor joined, in 1978. 

She had been studying criminal justice at North Country Community College in Saranac Lake before that, and working during weekends and breaks cleaning the town hall. 

It was during one of those cleaning shifts that she got talking with the chief before her, James Murley, and he encouraged her to take the police officer examination. 

She became a dispatcher at Guilderland first and took the officer’s test while working there, “and scored really well,” she said 

When Lawlor first started, of the six officers, two were women, “which was very progressive,” she said, “to have 33 percent minorities.” 

The percentage is less impressive now: 3 of 39, or less than 8 percent, of Guilderland officers are women. 

The current numbers statewide, as of 2018, are 53,483 total full-time sworn police officers and sheriff’s deputies who are male, and 9,287 who are female, according to Janine Kava, director of public information for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. This means that there are close to six times as many men as women on the job. Including Chief Lawlor, there are nine female chiefs and one female sheriff in the state, said Kava.

Almost no one was hiring women officers when she started, Lawlor said, and the public was not used to them either. 

Once she and the other female officer on the force responded together to a house where the resident had called for police. At the time, all officers wore green uniforms. When they arrived, the resident, a woman, called police dispatch again and demanded, “Get these Girl Scouts off my porch. I want a real cop.” 

When she started, there were no computers; records of accident reports and tickets were all written by hand, Lawlor said. All the officers were part-time; the office closed for several hours late at night, and any arrests that happened then were made by state police or sheriff’s deputies. 

Change came incrementally. The arrival of Crossgates Mall in the 1980s made the force busier; the department hired additional officers in anticipation of the greater call volume, Lawlor said. 

“Before, it was mostly residential, a few at Stuyvesant Plaza. There were a lot more bars back then. That kept us busy, too,” she recalled. 

She is proud of the department’s accreditation, Lawlor said, adding that only about a third of the 600 or so police departments in the state are accredited. Kava supplied the actual figures: 157 of New York’s 540 police and sheriff’s offices are accredited, or 29 percent.

It is a very intensive process, because “you have to prove in writing that you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing,” Lawlor explained.

Accreditation lasts four years, and the department has since been re-accredited twice, she said. Accreditation “holds police departments responsible, makes sure we’re doing the best job we can,” she said. 

Lawlor listed several programs she’s proud of, including the R.A.D, or Rape Aggression Defense, program of self-defense tactics for women; CRASE, or Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events; and the DARE, or Drug Abuse Resistance Education, program. 

Another program she is proud of is the Take Me Home program, in which people with special needs or the elderly can register and then carry a card stating that they are in the program. Officers are then able to access their address and contact information. Guilderland also established an optional, supplemental ID card, with the registered person’s name and emergency contact information. 

“I have a son who’s nonverbal, and he wouldn’t be able to say where he lives,” Lawlor said of her youngest child, who is 26. Lawlor’s daughter teaches students with special needs in Brooklyn. 

The chief doesn’t think the department has had any need to use the Take Me Home program, to date. “But it’s there,” she said. 

Over the years, the department’s Juvenile Aid unit has been expanded and broadened to Community Services, she said. That department runs activities in local schools related to bicycle safety and Halloween safety. It holds Coffee with a Cop events, inviting members of the public to meet and talk with officers at a coffee shop. It offers Drug Take-Back Days — accepting any medication or drug for proper disposal — and a Narcan program.

 “Outside of downstate, I believe we were the first, or one of the first, to carry Narcan,” Lawlor said. Narcan is a brand name for naloxone, which is a medication used to reverse effects of opioid overdoses. 

Lawlor started an annual report, she said, which lets people know what the department is doing, including the number of calls handled and some of the more unique cases that have occurred over the year. 

Cases that have stayed with her include the quadruple murders on Western Avenue, she said. “We certainly have never had a quadruple murder,” she said. “The number, the fact that young children were involved, and the fact that we’ve never solved it.” In that case, an entire Chinese family, including the parents and two boys who attended Guilderland Elementary School, were murdered in their home in October 2014. 

Lawlor also mentioned a case from years’ earlier, in which a teenage girl on a bicycle was attacked on Route 155 by a man who told her his car had broken down. An arrest was made in that case, she said, but it stayed with her nonetheless.  

 Lawlor doesn’t have extensive plans for retirement, other than to spend more time with family and to go on trips to places they’ve never been. She will also have more time, she says, to devote to bicycling and walking. She will be able to spend more time, too, with her horse, Sophie, a sturdy golden-brown workhorse known as a Haflinger. 

Lawlor will miss her job and all the people in the department; she’ll miss serving the town’s residents, she said. 

She will maintain one very strong connection to the force. Her son, Jack Tashjian, joined the department last fall and is set to graduate from the police academy in January. 

“I’m proud of him. I’m proud of all my children,” she said. 

 

McNally 

Captain Daniel McNally is a native of Minerva, a small town in Essex County in the Adirondacks. It has only about 800 residents and no police department. 

McNally always wanted to be a police officer and also a paramedic, he said. 

As with Lawlor’s family, McNally’s three children also have two police-officer parents. McNally’s wife, Stacy McNally, works for the Green Island Police. 

McNally joined the local volunteer fire department at age 16, he said. His father worked in an iron mine — the ore was used to make steel — and his mother was the land and school tax collector. She recently retired at age 84, he said, and is believed to be one of the longest-serving tax collectors in New York State. 

McNally came to the Capital District originally to attend the Regional Emergency Medical Organization paramedic training. He then worked for several years as a paramedic with a local ambulance service.  

When Guilderland formed its emergency medical services program, McNally was one of the original civilian paramedics; he started in 1987. In 1988, he went to the police academy to become a police paramedic.

He was on a team of seven, a combination of civilian and police paramedics; this allowed the department to become a 24-hour agency, McNally said, noting that the department ended that program years ago. 

He became an investigator in 1998, working with John Tashjian, Carol Lawlor’s husband. McNally was promoted to sergeant in 2000 and to lieutenant in 2007, which is about when he began directing the department’s EMS program. He was promoted to captain in 2015. 

McNally has been involved with fire investigation since 1990, he said. 

About field training, which he runs, McNally said, “By law we’re required to have a minimum of 21 hours of training per year per officer. We far exceed that here.”

The training includes work on use of force, de-escalation of force, and legal updates, he said. He believes training is “most important for officers, to stay current and relevant.”

The department currently has five officers who are state-certified to provide this training, and a couple of its newer lateral hires from other departments are also former trainers. Guilderland may make them trainers in the future, he said. 

McNally described himself as “kind of a hands-on kind of guy.” Operations — or interaction with the public — is “really where it happens,” he said, adding that he remains trained “up to the latest standards, to remain up-to-date at the street level.” 

All areas — police work, paramedic skills, and fire investigation — continue to develop, and it’s crucial to stay up-to-date, he said. 

McNally can be “the guy at the desk,” he said, but he is “definitely going to be attached, all the way down the line.” He believes it is important for administrators to be aware of “exactly what’s going on at the bottom, so they can assist with training and support for those members,” he said. 

He and a couple of other officers, he said, received training to be able to teach the Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events program. Initially, McNally expected to teach it to other officers and first responders, which he has done, but he has also personally trained about 1,700 civilians in what to do when faced with a shooter.

McNally is part of a team, he said, that trained all of the officers of both the Albany and Guilderland police departments. It’s important that all law-enforcement agencies respond the same way in such an event, he said. 

He mentioned the incident at Crossgates Mall three years ago in which a gun was fired. No one was hurt. Over 110 officers responded, from 17 departments, he said.  

That incident exposed a weakness in the inter-department communication system that has been addressed, McNally said. Since that time, area agencies including Guilderland Police have gotten an 800-megahertz radio system that makes it possible for them to communicate directly with other agencies during an emergency. 

As an example of a case that has stuck with him over the years, McNally offered the same one that Lawlor did: the quadruple homicide on Western Avenue. “We all drive past it every day and very much would like to solve that,” he said. 

McNally said that Guilderland has a great department that doesn’t need a lot of changes 

He discussed his short-term goals: to get a vendor agreement with Crossgates Mall signed, under which the department provides police presence in the mall and Pyramid pays the department. The system is already in place and working, but not yet made official, he said. 

Another goal of McNally’s is to meet recent state requirements reforming the criminal-justice system. “We’ve pretty much complied now; we’re all ready to go on January 1,” he said. “Nobody knows what that’s going to look like; it’s going to be a fluid year on that topic.” 

The preparation for expanding criminal discovery has been “a major undertaking,” McNally said. In the past, the department would have begun to hand over materials when the Albany County District Attorney’s Office started to prepare for a trial. 

Now all of the evidence in the department’s possession — including statements, reports, notes, body-camera and dashboard-camera footage as well as surveillance footage from any store involved — must also be provided to the defense within 15 days of an arrest. 

“I think this is going to make police officers better at their jobs, because you’re preparing every case as if it was going to trial,” McNally said. 

But the work is labor-intensive and it requires officers to spend a lot of time preparing these materials instead of being on the street, he said. 

He wishes the state could have implemented this new legislation over a period of time, as it did with Raise the Age legislation, which now keeps most 16- and 17-year-olds from being tried as adults. “It would have been much more manageable for all of us,” he said. 

To meet new state requirements, the department has not hired any additional staff; rather, it has shifted duties of several secretaries, McNally said. 

McNally and Lawlor both agree the department could use more officers than the current 39. Lawlor suggested it needs 50, and McNally gave the number of 45. 

He also described the events that led the town to announce in June 2018 that it was establishing its own ambulance service. Western Turnpike Rescue Squad, which had been one of the private companies that served the town, closed its doors a few months later. 

Some people had said at the time that the town should have been more open, that it should have held a public hearing prior to making and voting on that announcement in the same night.

McNally said the town had been monitoring response times and service for a long time before that. The town had reached out many times to Western Turnpike to discuss issues the company was having, McNally said.

“It happened quickly,” McNally said, “in terms of the predictions we had from those agencies as to how long they were going to be able to maintain. It happened much quicker.” 

The town had hoped to be able to support those agencies through the end of the year, McNally said, “but it just wasn’t enough.” He added, “There was no intent there.” 

Response times were not fast enough, he said, citing as an example times when the town would need to rely on a mutual-aid ambulance coming from Colonie, for instance, and taking 18 or 20 minutes. 

Now, he said, “we’re down in the 8-minute or less range, which is where we prefer to be.” The town currently has its ambulances at three stations: in Westmere, in central Guilderland, and on Carman Road, which allows for good response times, he said. 

McNally was sensitive, he said, to the difficulty he anticipated that Western Turnpike staff members would have in letting go of an agency they had created. He had conversations, he said, that included discussing the idea of keeping their name on ambulances. 

He knows how good the agency was, and “made every effort, through the Civil Service system,” to hire as many of the Western Turnpike staff as wanted to join the town’s service, he said 

Guilderland still has one independent rescue squad, in Altamont. The Altamont Rescue Squad is doing fine, McNally said, and the town will continue to support it.

The Altamont squad’s situation is completely different from that of Western Turnpike, in terms of call volume and expenses, McNally said. That squad tells him it has enough resources to maintain services for “a few years at least,” he said. He added, “That doesn’t mean that’s an end point. We’ll continue to support them.” 

He plans to be open with the public and the press, as chief. “It has to be that way, and anybody that knows me knows that that’s how I am,” he said. 

More Guilderland News

  • “I had my life flashing before my eyes,” said Lisa Chrysler of the moment before her son saved her. “When he gave me the Heimlich, I bent over and, within 30 seconds, I felt it go away … He stayed so calm and has been so humble ever since.”

  • The now-1,200 square-foot Pakistani restaurant will be housed in the former Subway sandwich shop. The space has been under construction for some time, but now, with a permit in hand, it can open for business. Nadia Raza, Curry Patta’s owner, told The Enterprise she anticipates opening the weekend of Dec. 4.

  • During an Oct. 6 town board meeting, Supervisor Peter Barber noted that Guilderland had been prepared for a difficult 2021 budget in part because of planning that began long before anyone had heard of the coronavirus. 

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