by Dave Warner
Chief Michael Masi will spend his last day as Chief of Police on January 4, 2019. The 27 year veteran of the force has decided that it’s time to hang up his holster and move on to other things he’s thought about doing during retirement.
Masi grew up seven miles from Little Falls and spent time hiking, camping and getting involved in winter sports. At eighteen, he moved to Miami Florida and spent four years there working campus and other security jobs.
Why did he move back from Miami? “Sitting on the beach just wasn’t my thing,” he said. “I like the four seasons and I have a hobby for each one.”
Masi was a scout master for the local boy scouts for several years and the hiking, camping and being out in the environment was much more attractive to him than the big city living.
Becoming a cop was something he thought about when growing up. “In fact, when I got on the job here, over the years, I’ve run into a couple of people that I went to school with and they commented on the fact that I always said that I wanted to do it, and I’ve made a career out of it,” said Masi.
Masi got hired as a part-time police officer in 1992 when Frank Lawrence was the Chief and Roger Stock was the Mayor of Little Falls.
“Roger was my Uncle and certainly having that connection helped, but Chief Lawrence gave me a chance and hired me. A lot of times in policing, there are civil service tests that you get hired off of, but a lot of times, historically, small town police officers started because they knew somebody,” stated Masi.
Masi said “It’s always better to hire someone that you know something about than taking someone you know nothing about and taking that chance.”
According to Masi, when he started, he didn’t think about becoming the Chief, he just wanted to be a police officer. “I didn’t think of doing anything other than just doing police work,” he said.
After five years on the job, an opportunity arose for Masi to take the Sergeant’s exam. “I took it just for experience with no thought that I would get selected, and the next thing you know, I was getting promoted to Sergeant.”
Masi felt that it’s always everyone’s thought that they want to progress in their job. “You don’t want to stay stagnant in anything,” he said.
Looking back on it, Masi thinks that being in that role was the most enjoyable. “You’re still one of the guys out on the street answering the calls, but you’re mentoring the younger officers coming on. At the same time, you have an opportunity to assist in directing the department from an administrative standpoint,” continued Masi.
At that time, Masi felt like he had more influence being in a small police department than a much larger one where there were several other ranks between Sergeant and Chief.
When Masi was Sergeant, there were 14 officers in the Little Falls PD, along with a number of part time officers. Today there are 11 full time and a similar number of part time officers.
“The population hasn’t changed that much since I started, but the makeup of the population has,” stated Masi.
In 2004, the Assistant Chief retired and Masi took the test. “That was the only option to move up as they weren’t filling the investigators position at the time,” he said. “Investigations and training are the two things that I enjoy the most.”
His goal after passing the test, was to stay Assistant Chief until the last five years of his career – as long as he had decided to stay in the job, and then go for the Chief’s job. “I wanted to stay as Assistant Chief up until that point, because the Chief’s job is a lot more involved in dealing with the political environment,” said Masi.
“Even as Assistant Chief, you’re still that middle person between the boss and the patrol, so they still value your opinion and you can work with the officers more.”
Masi felt like he had a pretty good idea about what being Chief would entail. The thing that surprised him most was “the budget cycles, the contract cycles, dealing with that kind of stuff was probably the most eye-opening.”
He said “You’re battling a desire to progress a police department in an age where we need technology, constant training and more and more emphasis on finances. Like every small community, we are constantly fighting that budgetary issue.”
Moving up as one of the rank and file members, he really didn’t know about those kinds of battles. “I always thought, this is what we want, this is what we need, why don’t you provide it?”
And then the shoe was on the other foot and “I had to explain to the other officers why that can’t happen, yet still fight the fight,” said Masi.
Today, the one thing they need most, but can’t afford Masi said is “the license plate readers that a lot of communities have in the police cars. It really helps in protecting the community. We were just never able to get them as the cost is pretty significant.”
Without a doubt, the trust factor between the public and the officers is the one thing that has changed the most since Masi started work here. “I’d much rather be a police officer in a small community because our residents know our police officers and they still have that respect for them for the most part.”
“It’s just a different environment now. I don’t think we’re winning the fight and I think the battle is much harder for our officers today,” stated Masi. “They really have to keep a good perspective as they go out there to do the job.”
Masi feels like the trust factor is now following the national trend in the larger markets. “It’s very easy to get cynical in the job when you’re dealing with the negative on a daily basis on so many levels. It used to be there was more of a pride in being a police officer. We know why we go out there every day and do the job, but to try and explain that to the public and get them to understand it, is a different thing.”
“But, last week I was at lunch with my son and I went to pay for my lunch and somebody had already paid for it. There are plenty of people like that. It’s something that you don’t see a lot of, but in small communities like this, there are still so many that value what we do,” stated Masi.
The police department is involved in more and more projects to try and help get the kids to trust them more, such as the junior police academy. Masi said “We have officers in the school now that foster that same kind of positive relationship with the kids as well.”
What is retirement going to look like for Masi? “I’m still running the Police Academy at Herkimer County Community College. I’m going to continue that and going to concentrate on picking and choosing the things that I enjoy doing most.”
“I’m retiring comfortable that this community is well served by the men and women that are on this police department,” stated Masi. But, “I’ll miss the interaction with the City employees and the community… the people. I’ll miss that.”
Masi’s actual retirement date is April 30, 2019 and Assistant Chief Ron Petrie will fill the position until the Mayor and the Police and Fire Board make an official decision.