Interview with Thomas Gerace, Patrol Captain and FBI National Academy Graduate

    Thomas Gerace is a graduate of the FBINA (FBI National Academy). At one time, Gerace was a soldier, SWAT operator, skydiver, and overall adrenaline junkie. At the time of this interview, Gerace was a police lieutenant. He is currently Captain of Patrol for the Town of Cheektowaga Police Department in New York. In this revealing interview, Gerace shares his beliefs and the career path that brought him to his current place in life.

    How did you decide to become a police officer?

    thomas-geraceWhen I graduated from high school, I really did not know what path to take in my life. I enjoyed art classes and worked on the school paper, so I decided to pursue a degree in graphic design. After working in the field for a couple of years, I went to graduate school and also enlisted as a Military Police Officer in the Army Reserves. As time passed, I discovered that my interests outside of work were entirely military/LE related, and I was not attempting to advance my skills or career in graphic design. I took a Civil Service exam to become a police officer and scored 100. After a small hiccup in timing (I was deployed as an MP to Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1999-2000) I was selected by my department for hiring and have been a police officer ever since.

    What are some guidelines you would impart to someone preparing to enter the field?

    If you live in a location or plan to move to a location that hires from a Civil Service list, your position on that list is really all that matters. Prepare for the test.

    Similarly, many young people spend a lot of their time and money pursuing a degree in criminal justice before they get hired. In a Civil Service state, that degree will not help you till you score high enough for consideration. My personal recommendation would be to pursue a degree in a separate field that interests you that intersects with police work (psychology, social services, etc.) before you get hired and consider a criminal justice degree after hire.

    Military, EMS, volunteer firefighter experience may prove to be a significant asset that can set you apart from the field of other applicants. Military service may also help by adding points to Civil Services tests if you qualify.

    What are some important things for someone who is interested in policing to do?

    Get into and stay in good physical condition. Achieving your life’s dream of appointment to a police force only to fail the training due to lack of physical conditioning would be extremely disappointing.

    Do some introspection and consider why you want to be a police officer. If it’s more about social status, power and feeling good about yourself than other reasons, you should reconsider. If it’s entirely about pay, retirement and just having a job, you may want to reconsider. Not to say that those elements in and of themselves are BAD (we all have assortments of them in our reasoning) but if you don’t feel as if LE is a “calling” then you will probably not advance in the field as far as you could.

    Once you get “IN” you will realize that most of the bad guys you arrest won’t typically spend years in prison. Some of the people you help will still despise you and the same people will continue to break the law…get arrested…get released…break the law again. When you see this, don’t despair. You are seeing what “real life” is, versus all the years of television and movies you based your impression of LE on. You are still doing a needed and worthwhile thing. Some people become jaded and cynical and that can keep you from advancing, from performing to your potential and from enjoying your career.

    Tell us about an interesting case you have worked on.

    As a Supervisor, my role is in directing and facilitating. I aspire to be a guide for the direction of my unit and I make sure that my subordinates have the tools, time and resources to do their work. That being said, my position still allows me the opportunity to “suit up” and go out in the field and participate.

    A more recent case involved the identification, surveillance and takedown of a large scale, international narcotics supply ring. The case involved Federal Agencies, GPS Tracking, coordination with various local agencies and LE branches as well as the execution of several search warrants.

    My role was as varied as being the point of contact and coordinator with the various agencies, scheduling and participating in surveillance operations. Planning and leading the execution of search warrants (I am also currently my Department’s Tactical Unit Supervisor) and dealing with the asset forfeiture process/paperwork (several tens of thousands of dollars and vehicles were seized) after the case was concluded.

    As a law enforcement officer, what role do you see social media playing in the profession and the pursuit of offenders in the world of criminal justice today?

    Pretty much everybody under the age of 30 uses social media, and probably even most of us above that age. Departments who don’t get involved in social media may as well have been in departments “back in the day” who believed that things like radios and computers were “passing fads.”

    What is the biggest technological change that has made your job easier in recent years?

    Computers. In my career so far, I have gone from carrying a clipboard and paper police reports to entirely computer entered paperwork. The ability to mine electronic reports and databases for information that can assist in investigations has been invaluable. The ability to use maps, assemble photo arrays, check criminal histories, and communicate with agencies around the world via web/e-mail has changed the face of law enforcement operations.

    What would you consider your most important strength as an officer?

    Interest in, ability with, and no fear of technology. I have spearheaded various projects to include our department’s first LPR system and camera van upgrade. I acquired grant money for our department’s first GPS Tracking Unit and have upgraded or purchased various computer and surveillance systems that changed the way my unit does business.

    We would like to thank Thomas Gerace for being so generous with his time and sharing valuable insights and advice with our readers. You can learn more about Thomas on his LinkedIn.