James Vafeades to take over as Rockville Centre police commissioner

Lieutenant will succeed Charles Gennario starting April 1


Lt. James Vafeades will take over as commissioner of the Rockville Centre Police Department, village officials announced last week. The move comes after Mayor Francis X. Murray decided not to reappoint Charles Gennario, who served in that role for the last eight years.

Vafeades, 49, has been a part of the department for 28 years, and will officially become commissioner on April 1. He will be publicly sworn in on April 9 at the village board’s next meeting.

“I’m going to give the residents my best effort,” he said, “and they can have the confidence in me to run this department the way that it should be run in the best interests of this village.”

Vafeades will be responsible for planning, organizing, supervising and directing the activities of all personnel for the department, which comprises 55 officers and more than 35 civilian employees. 

“I have full confidence that Lieutenant Vafeades is the right person for this important position,” Murray said in a statement. “He knows our village and will provide the level of leadership and safety we have come to expect from our police commissioner.”

Vafeades, who grew up in Valley Stream, followed in the footsteps of his father, who was a New York City police officer. He took the required exam in Nassau County, and soon received an offer.

“I knew Rockville Centre had a great reputation, and they called me and I jumped on it,” he recalled. He joined the department as a police officer in 1990, later becoming a sergeant in 2002 and a lieutenant in 2010.

A graduate of St. John’s University, where he earned a degree in accounting, Vafeades went on to graduate from the FBI’s National Academy in 2011, and most recently from Molloy College in 2014 with a master’s degree in criminal justice.

The village gave no reason for its decision not to reappoint Gennario, saying in a statement last month only that he “was contemplating retirement.” Gennario told the Herald he was not ready to retire.

Still, Gennario, whose contract expires on March 31, lauded the decision, noting Vafeades’s longtime service as a well-respected department member.

“I am happy to see that the board kept the line of succession within the department where it belongs,” Gennario wrote in an email. “I wish him all the best and am certain he will handle the great responsibility that goes with this position with dignity, respect and professionalism.”  

Village spokeswoman Julie Scully told the Herald last month that the village began posting an advertisement seeking a new commissioner on Newsday’s website on Jan. 19, and had conducted interviews with candidates within and outside the department since then.

The move comes after the department endured a two-week trial that month, which ended in the acquittal of Officer Anthony Federico, who was accused of police brutality during an arrest outside a South Park Avenue bar in 2016. And on Feb. 10, Officer Christopher Stafford was arrested for allegedly secretly recording a woman during a sexual encounter in his bedroom.

Stafford’s arrest came after the village made its reappointment decision, and Gennario said that the village had been supportive of Federico since he was indicted last March.

“I think he’s fair, reasonable and level-headed; he’s probably the best candidate for it,” James Carty, president of the Rockville Centre Police Benevolent Association, said of Vafeades. Carty told the Herald last month that he was saddended to hear that Gennario was not being reappointed, but admitted that he and Gennario did not always see eye to eye on certain issues, such as working conditions and employee benefits. “He’s one of the smartest people that I know,” Carty added of Vafeades, “and if there’s a problem, he’ll figure out a way to solve it.”

Vafeades said his priorities include keeping the crime rate low and continuing to fight the opioid epidemic.

“His years of expertise and experience will help to continue the strong relationship between our community and police officers and bring innovative ideas and creative policing tactics to the department,” Murray said. “He will lead this department with great integrity, competence and a love for this Police Department and community.”