By Sara Paul
Responding to a serious car accident on a cold winter night on Tuxedo Mountain in 1989, Thomas E. Maslanka, then a Warwick Police Officer, observed a clearly intoxicated driver. Maslanka arrested the man, who had a long history of Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) offenses.
The young officer was surprised when, about eight months later, he was approached at the Warwick Police Station by a man who had just come from an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. The driver Maslanka had put in handcuffs months prior wanted to thank the arresting officer for “… not giving me a break.”
“He told me that was what he needed. He had almost lost his family and his business,” Maslanka recalls.
The 32-year Warwick Police Department (WPD) member, who recently retired as lieutenant, commented, “Sometimes when you’re doing things as a police officer that most people will curse you out for, you’re actually helping them get to a place they need to be at, whether they know it or not.”
Maslanka will officially retire on Thurs., Mar. 26. His first day on the job was August 27, 1987.
Childhood Dream Come True
Born on September 11, 1965 in Long Island, NY, Thomas Elder Maslanka admits, “I always wanted to be police officer. I liked the idea of getting the opportunity to help people. We often see things that are bad in peoples’ lives, and sometimes the best feeling is to make it a little bit better.”
Moving to Warwick at age six, a young Tom wanted to become either be a police officer or an astronaut.
“Unfortunately, I realized I was afraid of heights,” laughs Maslanka, who quickly abandoned his NASA career aspirations.
“Being a police officer seemed like an exciting job. It didn’t appeal to me to go to the same place and do the same thing every day,” said Maslanka, whose grandfather was a member of the New York City Police Department (NYPD).
At age 22, Tom began working at the WPD, attending the Rockland Police Academy in Pomona, NY for four and a half months. He was an officer until Jan. 1, 1992, when the Warwick Town and Village Police Departments merged and he was promoted to sergeant. In 2001, he became a lieutenant.
A Special Partner
In 1994, Maslanka, along with friend and fellow officer Pete Artusa, drafted a proposal for a WPD K-9 Unit. The idea was presented to the Warwick Town Board, and in 1995, Maslanka adopted Caesar, a German Shepherd puppy.
When Caesar was 16-months-old, he and his new partner, Tom, started K-9 training school. By his first competition, Caesar placed number two in NYS in the Novice category.
“He did a lot of great things, and the Unit was clearly a success,” said Maslanka of his loyal canine of seven years; Caesar was cross-trained in patrol and narcotics.
“He was a member of my family, like a first child. He ran around the yard with my baby son, and we never had a worry that he would hurt anyone, unless they were a threat,” said Maslanka, who fondly remembers camping trips with his wife and four children, and, of course, Caesar. The family has traveled the entire east coast from Florida to upstate NY.
After Maslanka was promoted to lieutenant in 2001, he retired Caesar. Caesar passed away in 2003 and his ashes reside on a table outside of Maslanka’s bedroom, in the same spot where Caesar used to sleep every night.
The proud owner has some firm instructions for his own passing.
“When I am departed my ashes will be combined with his, so we will be together again,” said Maslanka.
Noteworthy Professional Development
Aside from his experiences in the K-9 Unit, Maslanka reports that a significant highlight in his career was an 11-week police administration course at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, VA. Meeting and learning from police administrators from all over the world, such as China, Japan, Germany, and Australia, as well as from almost every state in the US, Maslanka also took part in rigorous physical exercises. A three-mile run to a Marine Corp obstacle course followed by another three-mile run back to the FBI Academy was particularly challenging.
“I never in my life thought I could run nine miles without being chased,” jests Maslanka, who earned 15 college credits for the course. “I learned a lot and made some friends. It was interesting to see that in larger departments, like the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) they have the exact same problems we do, just more of it.”
Also trained in skills such as hostage negotiator and drug recognition expert, Maslanka said, “I have been very, very fortunate in my career to do and be trained in a lot of things.”
Moments of Note
When about his most memorable times on the job he recalls an exciting evening in the early 1980s when a truck backed into his police car and then took off. A high speed chase ensued from Pine Island to Blooming Grove, PA.
Spanning 58 miles and involving 30 surrounding police agencies, the pursuit finally ended when the Pennsylvania State Police blocked the road and took the driver into custody. As the offender was to be arraigned in New York, it was Maslanka who accompanied him back and waited with him at the station house in Warwick.
After talking at length, it was clear to Maslanka that the unfortunate soul, “… wasn’t a bad guy; he just had a bad night. Good people do bad things sometimes, and the measure of that is what are you going to do next? Keep doing bad things or fix it?”
It turns out that the man is still a truck driver in Louisiana and is also a writer working on his memoirs. He later contacted Maslanka to ask about that chaotic night, and the Lieutenant was happy to oblige in the friendly communication and correspondence.
“This guy straightened out, moved on and stayed out of trouble. I was happy to talk to him and help him with the specifics of that night for his book,” Maslanka said.
Sadder times include a night early in his career when a young Maslanka responded to a call from a Greenwood Lake apartment complex. A female victim had been assaulted and fatally stabbed. When Tom arrived she was barely breathing but almost audibly whispered to him the name of the neighbor who had delivered the fatal wounds. Though the case was handled by the NYS Police and evolved quickly from investigation to arrest to trial, Maslanka had an empty feeling that resonated with him for some time.
“Adrenaline is a funny thing. It keeps you going for quite a while then you crash. I’d be liar if I said I wasn’t a little numb the next day and really didn’t know how to feel. I’d never seen or been involved in anything like this before,” he solemnly states.
“This job is like having box seats on the 50-yard line of life. You see the best of people and the worst of people… and for the people at their worst, we try to make it a little better,” he commented.
The humble officer gives credit to his PD comrades whom he says, “…are making the difference and deserve a big pat on the back” as well as to the Warwick Fire Department and EMS members, whom he refers to as the “life blood of this community.”
WPD Changes Over the Decades
Time and technology certainly have impacted all municipalities, and the WPD is no exception. Maslanka looks back on the late 1980s and early 1990s when there were about a dozen fatal accidents per year in Warwick. Crime and illegal drug use were and continue to be a problem, however, Maslanka notes that the merging of the Town and Village police departments had a significantly positive effect on the decrease in accidents as well as crime.
“It’s hard to quantify the amount of crime an officer prevents by his presence, simply by doing paperwork in the car in a high traffic area or conducting a traffic stop, which impacts all the people who see the increased presence,” said Maslanka.
The lieutenant smiles proudly when he recalls receiving word from a neighboring police agency that even burglars reported that they aren’t active in Warwick because “there are cops everywhere!”
“What better compliment than to hear that from the bad guys,” he chuckles.
He also points out that illegal opioid use is constant and a complex problem since the illegal drug dealers are not using traditional methods of buying and selling.
“With drugs like heroin, it’s like looking for the ‘dealer of the day,” he said, adding that WPD works closely with law enforcement agencies in other counties to make arrests and seize inventory.
His wife, Mary, a retired WPD detective, made a big push to increase the number of full-time plain-clothes detectives to combat drug issues. The force increased its undercover detectives to three full-time officers, who also investigate quality of life issues in Warwick, such as loitering and vandalism.
Department initiatives that Maslanka himself suggested included police presence in schools after the school shootings in Sandy Hook, NJ in 2012. His suggestion was well received, and in 2017, all Warwick schools implemented a full-time school resource officer on the grounds from the opening to closing bell and for special events.
“It makes people feel better about how safe their kids are and also gives the officers the opportunity to be in every one of our schools, so that if, God forbid, something happens, every officer is familiar with the facilities,” said Maslanka.
With all these improvements in the WPD, advancements in how the police use technology were not ignored. While Lt. Maslanka remembers his first clunky cop car with 130,000 miles and a converted CB radio (which he fondly describes as sounding like the teacher from Charlie Brown), the new police vehicles are complete with laptops, printers and interior mounted radar antennas.
“Technology is just amazing. Things have changed dramatically from the days of hoping your car started,” Maslanka smirks.
At 50-ish years young, Maslanka is gratified by his police career and also looks forward to new professional horizons.
“I am going to first take a breath. I really haven’t decided what I want to be when I grow up,” smiles the incessant comedic gentleman, who said he plans to continue his education, relax a bit, work on some “honey do list” projects in his Pine Island home, and look into some new adventures in a new motor home.
The devoted family man looks forward to spending time with his wife, Mary, of 26 years, and his children, Tom, 25; twins John and Kristen, 22; and Robert, 19. He also plans to continue coaching Warwick High School Varsity Football, as he has for the past 10 years.
Back at the Police Station, Warwick Police Chief Tom McGovern reports that, “There have been no plans yet regarding filling Lt. Maslanka’s position, but I suspect those discussions will take place during the summer of this year.”
“It will be a difficult task to replace a person that has handled and overseen virtually every aspect of this Department’s operation. He has been my right hand during my twenty years as chief. I wish him a happy and healthy retirement with his family,” said Chief McGovern.
Maslanka sits proudly at his desk amidst a sea of honorary plaques and meaningful photos and proclaims, “It’s been a rewarding career, and I’m very fortunate to have had the opportunity to do so many great things here.”
Then he confides, almost in a whisper (jesting that perhaps that this should be off the record), “I would have done this job for free.”