Berry Talks Career, Safety

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The passion of John Berry’s life in law enforcement can be traced back to his childhood. His mother, Deanna, still holds dear a picture of a police officer her son drew, foreshadowing 23 years of service in the Nassau County Police Department. The drive of law enforcement is ingrained in Berry’s family tree, with his great-grandfather serving as a sheriff in Clinton County, NY.

As the current commanding officer of the Third Precinct in Williston Park, Berry, 48, succeeded Sean McCarthy as CO earlier this year. McCarthy was promoted to the Chief Patrol Office at department headquarters in Mineola.

“I wanted to become a police officer to help people,” Berry, of Bellmore, said. “Even when I was younger, I always had that in the back of my mind.”

Berry recalled a summer job as a lifeguard while in high school and at Hofstra University that served as one of the slew of reasons he wanted to be a police officer. At Wantagh’s Forest City Pool, he’d pepper Nassau County police officers ending their shifts with questions about their day.

“They’d tell me what went on during their days,” he said. “It was just very interesting. I’d always talk to them.”

After one of those hot, summer days, a police officer approached Berry with an application for the county’s police department exam.

“I said ‘wow, why are you giving me that?’” Berry said. “The cop said ‘every time I see you, you’re asking me what’s going on, so take the test. I think you’d be good at it.’”

After passing the exam, the hiring process interwove with his push for an accounting position, but the itch he felt during his days huddling with Nassau’s finest at the pool proved strong.

Berry started at the First Precinct in 1992-95 before working in the department’s legal bureau while attending law school at St. John’s University and later served in the precinct as sergeant and lieutenant. He would later be elevated to commanding officer of the legal bureau. In 2006, he worked in the same position in asset forfeiture for the department.

Berry’s rise through the department includes serving as administrative lieutenant in the Chief of Detectives Office and deputy commanding officer and inspector of the First Precinct. Serving as CO of the Second Precinct for four years, Berry made inspector in 2012.

In January 2015, Berry helped man the Fourth Precinct before moving to the third.

Berry is responsible for criminal activity in the third’s coverage area (45 communities), among other responsibilities. His first stop in the morning is to the desk lieutenant for updates of any ongoing issues in the precinct.

Berry reviews daily crime reports of the area, but says significant crime updates will cross his desk as they develop.

“Incident reports do come through quickly, but generally I’ll review all the reports each morning and then based on those reports, I’ll sit with intel-analysts and go over any patterns that need to be addressed,” Berry said.

He continues to liaison with local community groups and municipalities. Berry recently held forums with New Hyde Park and East Williston to discuss car break-ins and home burglaries.

“The main goal for community forums is to get the information back to the police department,” Berry said. “If we don’t know about particular concerns of these communities, it makes the job harder. It’s important to get out there, meet the people and learn their worries and address them.”

Nassau County recently re-instituted its Problem Oriented Police (POP) unit with two officers in the north and south jurisdictions of the Third Precinct. Officer Armand Galassi and Carlos Rivera will man the northern portion for POP while Todd Atkin and Jesse Cooper will cover the south.

“We want to make a difference in people’s lives,” Berry said.

Concerning residential burglaries, Berry suggests criminals look for tell-tale signs of inactivity at homes whether it be empty driveways, living rooms and front lawns. With winter bringing shorter days, break-ins rise, he said. Residents should keep front-lawn bushes short so homeowners can see if people are approaching properties, Berry stated.

“I go to community meetings in the fall before the days get shorter and address this possible issue before it gets started so people can take action to protect themselves,” Berry said.

Car break-ins are a common occurrence, Berry said, and at times, plain-clothes officers from the Criminal Intelligence Rapid Response Team are deployed to apprehend perpetrators.

“Those cases with larcenies from autos, a lot of times it’s a person just walking through neighborhoods looking through cars; not necessarily a targeted area,” Berry said. “But what we’ll do is get information out to [police] cars in those communities that have patterns in that area and we’ll direct them to increase their intensity of patrol during the times that incidents are occurring.” 

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