That is the first adjective that comes to mind when we think of Colonie Police Chief Jonathan Teale, who had his walking out ceremony last week and will be officially retired by the end of next month.
There isn’t a lot of showmanship or flowery banter or chasing cameras with Teale.
He’s just solid. What you see is what you get.
And he is a cop’s cop. When he speaks of having 114 other officers to worry about during a time when it is not easy being a police officer, it comes from the heart.
That’s not to say he wasn’t The Chief. A reporter, new to the beat, once asked if there was any type of seniority clause that allowed officers who have been on the force the longest to pick and choose assignments.
Teale said, in no uncertain terms, “No. I’m the chief.” It left little doubt who was running the show.
And he ran a, well, solid show for six years.
Under his watch, the number of uniformed police officers allocated in the budget grew to 115, up from 107 in 2008, and he implemented a number of new programs including a drone fleet that has proven invaluable in finding missing persons, tracking persons who would prefer to stay missing and accident reconstruction. He was also big on training, which not only prepared the troops, it boosted morale.
He added a ton of new equipment including armored rescue vehicle, which he maintains is more of a defensive tool, and a ton of other apparatus for specialized forces.
Yes, it can be argued that a relatively well-to-do suburb in upstate New York hardly needs the firepower of an armored vehicle (tank) or enhanced SWAT gear and training, but the chief quickly points out his officers took 26 illegal guns off the streets in 2020, far surpassing the previous record of 11 set in 2015.
Those guns, he said, would have more than likely ended up involved in something not good in one of three cities — Albany, Schenectady and Troy — that surround the town. Or they could have easily been turned on one of his officers. A scenario that has not, thankfully, played out.
The times are changing, though, and while the citizens of Colonie support their chief and their Police Department, it is not the universal sentiment it once was.
To the first point, a Siena poll done a couple years ago found the Colonie Police Department had an astonishing 91 percent favorability rating. Results from a Democracy Fund and UCLA Nationscape survey published last year in USA Today, found the number of people who viewed police favorably dropped from 72 to 61 percent among whites and from 47 to 38 percent among Blacks.
That was in the wake of the George Floyd murder, so the numbers could be coming back up a bit. A Siena College Research Institute poll from last week found the number on concern on the minds of most people is crime, which is really not surprising given the spate of shootings in the Capital District over the past year.
Either way, it’s a safe bet there are not too many departments in the country that enjoy a 91 percent favorability rating at any time. That is, of course, because of the on-the-street officers who interact with public every day, but since every department is a para-military organization, in that there is a hierarchy of command, those officers take their lead from the top, the chief.
Public sentiment ebbs and flows and Teale may have weathered the storm, and while he did max out on his pension it is the so called bail reform that pushed him over the edge to retirement.
“I may have stayed for another year or two, but it’s been a tough year,” Teale said. “I was able to convince the Town Board to hire more officers and we effectively reduced crime in town and that has been reversed due, in large part, to our state Legislature — 30 to 40 percent of the people who get an appearance ticket don’t show up. People who are involved in criminal conduct understand there are little or no consequences for their actions.”
Treading water is one thing. Treading water with a block of concrete tied to your ankle is another.
On paper, bail reform makes perfect sense, if the ideal of “everyone is treated equally in the eyes of the law” is true. If two people with similar records are arrested for the same crime and one has access to bail money and one does not, logically one gets out while the other does not. That is a problem. The state Legislature, though, took the solution too far and removed bail for a whole host of crimes. It has been a disaster for police and the courts and has essentially gutted the judiciary, a separate and distinct branch of government.
Maybe the Legislature will fix the fix. Maybe they won’t. Maybe the next fix will make it worse.
What we do know is Teale won’t be around to see it. Or if he does see it, it will be from a boat.
The department was already in good shape when Teale took over thanks, in large part, to the tenure of Chief Steven Heider. Teale left his mark, and made it better.
We have all the confidence whoever is the next chief — Deputy Chiefs Michael Woods, Robert Winn or James Gerace or Lt. Todd Weiss, all of whom took the civil service test — will follow in those same footsteps.