With Father’s Day come and gone, I couldn’t help thinking of my own father, Samuel Wolf Blankman. If ever I complained about a teacher, my old man said, “Why is it always the teacher? Why isn’t it you?” He advised me to tell the truth because then I wouldn’t have to remember what I said. And he stressed strongly: “Don’t break the law and you’ll never have a problem with the police.”
Speaking of police, Port Washington has been blessed with a first-rate police presence. That doesn’t happen by accident. It is the result of the strong, enlightened leadership of our chiefs and our three elected police commissioners and a cadre of dedicated men and women who round out our police force.
Port Washington’s new Police Chief, James Salerno, is a rara avis. He is the only chief in memory who is Port Washington born and bred. He went to Main Street School, then to Weber Junior High and graduated from Schreiber. His father, Albert, worked in the sand pits for a time and later became a custodian at Sousa Junior High. His mother, Lucy, worked as a paraprofessional for the school district for 40 years, retiring at age 80.
When he was younger, Salerno didn’t consider becoming a police officer. But he did become a member of Port’s fire department in 1977. Two years later, when Port’s Fire Medics Company was founded, Salerno was aboard, remaining for five years and earning the rank of captain. And fate handed him a bonus.
One day, Salerno spotted a young woman coming up the ramp to the Fire Medics. There was nothing wrong with his eyesight. “I saw her and I thought she was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen,” he said, smiling broadly. Her name was Jean. She was going to nursing school. He admits to being bashful, which meant it took him some time to ask her for a date. But when he did, the courtship lasted five years. By then, Jean was a nurse at St. Francis. They were married in 1985, found an apartment on Avenue B in Port and settled in, and in time the stork brought Christopher, Ashley and Robbie (now 27, 25 and 22).
Salerno had been working as a paramedic in New York City in 1981, but in 1983, he took a test for Nassau County police and passed, but chose the Port Washington police. In September 1985, he was sworn in by the then-chief Frank Donahue. “I spent the next
five years on patrol,” he said.
(Not to worry, his career was on the ascendant.)
On April Fools’ Day, 1984, Salerno was promoted to sergeant. Six years later, he became a detective. He was promoted to lieutenant in October 2000, assigned to a patrol for one month, then moved to administration, where he became Chief William Kilfoil’s administrative assistant. By 2004, he was promoted to assistant chief. And when Chief Kilfoil retired in March 2013 after 39 years, Assistant Chief Salerno became Acting Chief Salerno. He was required to take the civil service test for chiefs, which he did, coming out number one. On October 19, Acting Chief Salerno became Chief James Salerno.
Police Commissioner James Duncan, 19 years on the job, seven times as chairman, explained, “I have worked with him as a lieutenant, assistant chief and finally chief. He scored number one on the Civil Service Chiefs Test. Jim is the most experienced and a fine worker.” Duncan should know. He has been a dedicated Port firefighter for 52 years and was a Nassau County police officer for 23 years.
Salerno’s predecessor, William Kilfoil, has only high praise for him. “His assistance to me was vital. His professional skills abound and he has an unlimited capacity to work with people to get the job done. I am proud to call him my colleague and my friend.”
Chief Salerno became a police officer because, he said, “I always wanted to do something to help people.” Then, emotionally, he added, “But of all the things I’ve done, the awards and medals, the best thing in my whole career was the baby girl I delivered in the lobby at headquarters. I was getting ready to go off duty after an overnight shift. A cab pulls in with a man and woman in the backseat. The woman was obviously pregnant and ready to deliver. They stopped at the police station because they couldn’t make it to the hospital in time. We carried her in, laid her on the couch and I delivered the baby…I was delighted to be present at her 15th birthday celebration.”
Chief Salerno is a born communicator with great passion for his job. He has set up forums for residents to say what’s on their minds. “I love this job. I love the community and the police officers here, the men and women, who keep us safe 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said.
“I am sure he will continue to do a fine job for the people of Port Washington for many years to come,” Kilfoil said.