Women's History Month SCPD Commissioner Geraldine Hart Goes To Commack HS
Saturday, March 30, 2019 at 8:55PM

photo credit Brenda LentschWomen’s History Month means different things to people. The world for women in 2019 is very different from the world of fifty years ago. Unfortunately, there are still glass ceilings that women are fighting to break but the ceilings are fewer. Earlier this week at Commack High School, sixteen female students had the opportunity to see history for themselves.  On Monday, March 25th, nineteen students all leaders met with Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart, the first female police commissioner in Suffolk County history.

The nineteen attendees were Erin Sass (11th),Crystal Curcio (11th), DaVaughna Tulloch (12th), Jenna Theodorellis (12th), Kim Liao (11th), Kristina Parkas (11th), Amy Pasquale (11th), Brianna Michel (11th), Paige Robinson (11th), Jenna Cicalo (11th), Samantha Silverman (10th), Alyssa Braxton (11th), Emily Hartman (10th), Cathleen Deutsch (12th), Noa Mizrachi (12th), Jackie Dweck (12th), Stephanie Schneider (12th), Carly Sukiel (12th), Jackie Cianci (12th).

Commack School District Clerk Debbie Virga, who also holds the title of Director of Community Relations, was the organizer of the Women’s History Event. Commack HS Principal Leslie Boritz was the proud host. The students came with interest and questions. Accolades to the students for coming up with insightful and provocative questions. Accolades to Commissioner Hart who answered every question. 

Police Commissioner Hart center with Commack HS Principal Leslie Boritz (L) and District Clerk Debbie Virga (R)Commissioner Hart is a Long Island native who grew up in Northport and graduated from Northport High School. She developed her passion for the FBI while on a fifth grade field trip to FBI Headquarters in D.C. She determined that becoming an agent would be her career choice and focused on making it a reality.

FBI agents are required to have an undergrad degree, an advanced degree or three years work experience. Hart went to St. John’s University Law School upon graduation she encountered a hiring freeze at the FBI. When the freeze was lifted Hart was notified of her acceptance. Her excitement was short lived. She received a letter rescinding her acceptance. There was a problem with her background check. 

Devastated but keeping her eyes on the prize; Hart was determined to find out what was discovered in the background check. Not an easy thing to do as the information is not provided to the applicant. This lady wasn’t about to give up on her life dream. Knowing that she made choices in her life that would ensure FBI acceptance, she turned all her attention on the problem and discovered the holdup was a report of an unpaid school loan which was a grant not requiring payment. Problem solved.

Following training she was sent to NY and worked on health care cases. A health care murder case she worked on successfully led to her reassignment  to organized crime and gangs. She now worked on the Lucchese organized crime and the Kubecka and Barstow murder case which involved a Northport carting company.

A promotion put her in management, another promotion and she was head of FBI LI region. she worked on MS13 cases and investigated Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke. Under Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini a collaborative relationship developed between the FBI and the SCPD.

Although she never planned to leave the FB, when the Police Commisioner’s job became available in April 2018 she took it and hasn’t looked back. “That door is closed” is how she answered a question about returning to the FBI.

So what’s it like being the first female Suffolk County Police Commissioner? The FBI and the SCPD are similar in that they are predominantly male (11 percent female in FBI and 9 percent in SCPD), but the pace and breadth of work is different. Everyday there is something new happening and new to learn. Acknowledging that there are things she had no experience with she explained to the students the importance of being aware of what she doesn’t know and to learn from those who have knowledge she doesn’t. She is quick to say that the SCPD is very professional and those she works with have been supportive. The intense media attention is something she didn’t experience in the FBI. This, she pointed out, has nothing to do with gender but the nature of the position.

Her advice to the students was, “Be authentic, be yourself. Don’t try to be something you are not. Don’t try to act like a man in a man’s world.” Policing is changing and she would like to see more women consider joining the force. Women, she says, bring a lot to the table. In 2019 policing has a guardian mentality not a warrior mentality. This new way of thinking is a good fit for women who often are good at multitasking and collaboration.  Hart emphasized the variety of opportunities in the SCPD including marine, canine, tech and information.

Careers rise and fall on reputation. According to Hart, having the respect of your peers is important. This is especially true for women who tend to be unwilling to self promote, your colleagues will be your verifiers.

A question about being the first female led to an anecdote about a visit to the police quartermaster. Touring with females, a police officer handed her a pair of pants and asked “can you get behind the counter I need my pants changed.” Uncomfortable for the officer, she said ” The situation can go two ways and she chose to laugh about it.”

What is most important to Commissioner Hart is her family. She trys to find a balance in her home and work life. “My kids are always the priority. and I make that known.” There are times that according to Hart “I give a little bit.”  The FBI had flexibility in scheduling and allowed people to work part time with a reduction in pay. She did this when her children were young. This allowed her to both continue her service and be there for her kids, a choice that many women confront. 

Jenna Theodorellis presents SCPD Commissioner Hart with Commack memorabiliaThe choices Hart made changed her life for the better. She advised the students to “keep your mind and options open to things you may never have imagined.” Too many women feel they must know everything there is before taking a position.  I’m not ready is a common phrase. Hart’s advice “of course you are ready.” Throwing out a statistic that women feel the need to know ninety percent and men only fifty percent she encouraged the students to grab opportunities. “If you want something there is nothing that will stand in the way… perseverance. Set your sites on it whatever makes you happy. If you love what you do it’s never work.”

Summing up Commisioner Hart’s presentation is easy, own your mistakes, slow down be more deliberative. The tempo might call for quick decision, but take a moment to look at the big picture and facts will come into focus. Mentor, be collaborative, be a good listener, no ego, find a good balance in family and work life. Remember to give and take. 

Sage advice from the first female Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart.


Article originally appeared on Smithtown Matters - Online Local News about Smithtown, Kings Park, St James, Nesconset, Commack, Hauppauge, Ft. Salonga (http://www.smithtownmatters.com/).
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