Patrick Ryder, Nassau County’s recently installed police commissioner, can still remember the moment that he decided he wanted to become a police officer.
He was a young boy growing up in East Rockaway when Officer Jimmy Cone of the Lynbrook Police Department inspired him. Ryder’s parents, Seamus and Katherine, immigrated to America from Ireland, and Cone sponsored their citizenship. He often stopped by their house, and Ryder said he was enamored by the way Cone carried himself and the thrills of his job.
“He would show up to the house and tell war stories about being a cop,” Ryder recalled. “I said, ‘Man, I really want to be a cop.’”
Ryder, 55, eventually did just that. And on Feb. 26, he became Nassau’s top cop when he was sworn in as commissioner.
“Every cop dreams that they want to be the big boss,” he said, smiling as he sat in his office at the department’s headquarters in Mineola, his desk lined with dozens of coins with various emblems on them. Some of them were given to him by people with whom he has worked, while others represent places he has been and those he has lost along the way. Each tells a story of his journey to the big job, but one coin is still on its way, he noted. “The commissioner’s coin,” he said, grinning.
Ryder’s road to the post began locally. He grew up in East Rockaway, the third-oldest of five siblings. He graduated from St. Raymond’s Parochial School in 1976. After his family moved to Lynbrook, he graduated from Lynbrook High School in 1980. While there, he joined the wrestling, football and baseball teams, and made many memories.
“I remember jumping off the Pearl Street bridge,” he said of East Rockaway. “Crabbing off of Cannonball Park. Going down to Bay Park. One time, I put a fishing hook through my finger. We just loved the water down there. . . . Lynbrook is also a great community. It’s an old, hometown area. People move back and live there. All my friends are down there.”
Ryder noted that being a police officer was not his only dream while he was growing up. After high school, he moved to Arizona to play baseball. “I couldn’t hit a curve ball, so I became a cop,” he said. After returning to Long Island, he took a job with the Lynbrook Department of Public Works, where he would regularly see police officers gassing up their cars. Seeing them rekindled his desire to join the police force.
He became an officer in the New York City Police Department in January 1984. In July 1986, he received a call from the NCPD. He and his wife, Jill, eventually moved to Wantagh, where they raised triplets, Sean, Liam and Meghan, now 18.
Though he has now reached the NCPD’s pinnacle, Ryder said, he had a humble beginning when he first joined the NYPD. He recounted that he made an arrest on his first day on the job, and though it was a sign of his hunger to be a cop, it was not well received by his peers and administrators.
“I made an arrest and I got yelled at by everybody,” he recounted, “because it was my first day on the job and you don’t do that. But I did what I had to do.” He said then-Capt. Ray Kelly, who eventually became NYPD commissioner, patted him on the shoulder and told him it would be OK.
Ryder’s drive eventually led former NCPD Commissioner Thomas Krumpter to name him the NCPD’s deputy commissioner on Jan. 5, 2017. He became acting commissioner on July 10, and County Executive Laura Curran announced in February that he would be promoted to full-time commissioner of the 2,500-officer department.
“At the end of the day, he has emerged as the right person at the right time,” Curran said at a news conference last month, adding that Ryder was the most qualified out of a pool of interested candidates.
“I’ve been fighting crime my whole life,” Ryder said. “Crime has gone down. We’re in historic lows in the county. Since 1966, when we started looking at numbers, we are the lowest we’ve ever been.”
Ryder said that two of his biggest objectives are to combat the opioid crisis on Long Island and to enhance school safety amid a rise in shootings across the country.
To help combat opioid abuse, he created the Commissioner’s Community Council, a police task force that established a subdivision in each of the county’s 19 legislative districts. All areas have executive community council members, who will represent their districts. Each member will be a bridge between police officers and residents, and will help keep the department informed about any potential opioid issues locally. They will also take part in educational forums and seminars to raise the public’s awareness.
Ryder said he spends many evenings reaching out to community members from all the districts, and that the CCC gives the department an outreach it has not had before. There are 180 people on the committee, and the number for each district varies, he said.
To enhance school safety, he recently rolled out the School Resource Program, which will offer additional resources to school districts in the event of active-shooter situations. He said it would provide a link between school officials and the federal Department of Homeland Security.
Ryder also spoke of the Rave system, an app installed on school administrators’ phones that alerts police if there is an active shooter or medical emergency. Once the app is engaged, a call is placed to 911, and the police gain access to the school’s security cameras.
The School Resource Program will also include resource officers meeting with superintendents and training teachers, students, parents and administrators on how to handle emergencies. “Not only do we walk them through with a PowerPoint and educational side,” Ryder said, “we also do training drills with them and, more importantly, we physically walk the premises.” He said that about 130 buildings across the 56 districts in the county have cameras, and about 125 have the Rave app, which bypasses the usual 911 caller line and goes straight to a separate terminal during emergencies.
Ryder said the efforts are all a part of his vision for a safer Nassau. “I’ve got several years to make a difference,” he said, “and I’m going to make a difference.”