Story by Sara Paul
On Aug. 25, 1988, the Village of Warwick Police Department (WPD) was wrapping up a three-month-long investigation into cocaine sales in Warwick. Seasoned officers working in conjunction with the Town of Warwick Police, as well as the District Attorney’s Office, arrested dozens of individuals accused of selling the illegal substance.
At the bustling station house, more than 25 suspects were handcuffed and arraigned, while one young rookie stood watch. Acting as bailiff, he had no gun and no training. This was Brett Lukach’s first day of work at the WPD.
This past Aug. 25 marked 30 years of service for the devoted officer. Lukach officially retired on Valentine’s Day of 2019, though his actual end date was Feb. 15.
The Westtown resident cherishes the good and bad times, the uplifting experiences and the painful ones. Most of all, he is grateful he was able to work at a job where he met people from all walks of life.
“I loved being a police officer. I got to interact with different people all the time. I encountered people who literally need help, and I found that I could make a tremendous difference,” commented Lukach, who was recently honored at a retirement celebration party at the Tuscan Café in Warwick. He was also a guest on a WTBQ radio show last month.
A sympathetic and thoughtful soul, Brett carefully contemplates the lives he touched and the lessons he learned. He recalls the first day at the police station amidst a tempest of felony drug sale cases.
“They are people. They made bad decisions,” says Brett, who, now with three decades of experience under his belt, has usually found that, “People are fundamentally good, evil people are rare, and sometimes circumstances can cause some people to go the wrong way. Sometimes they just need to be guided back on course.”
Already an experienced motorcyclist since his teens, Lukach was honored to be selected to enroll in the first WPD motorcycle class in 2002. The course took place in New Windsor, and the daring cyclist was in awe of the new instruction and knowledge that the BMW bike he was given was capable of more than he had ever thought possible.
“There were some moves where my mind was telling me that these are things that shouldn’t be done,” said Brett, who had used his own Yamaha 650 to commute to SUNY Orange County Community College in rain, sleet or snow.
In those grueling weeks of motorcycle school, he was learning things like the absolute limits of a motorcycle’s turning radius.
“Police motorcyclists are probably the highest trained cycle operators on the planet and getting paid to ride a motorcycle sounded like fun and it sure is. It makes you a rare person as there are not a lot of pro motorcycle riders,” he notes, while also humbly and matter-of-factly assuring that any motorcycle operator will drop their bike at some point.
In fact, his first lessons at the exclusive WPD school revolved around how to properly drop and pick up a bike.
Fond memories also include a 2003 emergency call that landed him in a family’s bathroom, delivering their new son. With the cord tangled around the baby’s neck, it was a tense scene as everyone panicked, except Brett. Rolling up his uniform sleeves, Brett was able to remove the cord from the baby’s neck and clear its airway. (Though pressed, he refuses to admit he saved that child’s life).
“The mother was having complications, and I was able to fix that, that’s all,” says Brett, smiling as he describes seeing the boy and his family in town and watching the child grow up.
While the successful delivery of this bundle of joy was an utter blessing, a calm, conscientious, and kind Lukach was often called upon to deliver things that were the antithesis of joyful.
One of his charges was the task of death notifications, in which a heavy-hearted Brett knocked on the doors of family members to inform them of the tragic loss of a loved one. He would stay with the family sometimes for hours, helping make funeral arrangements, talking with priests and relatives, and just listening as people grieved.
“It’s not something you learn. It’s intuitive, and it’s hard, but you take the time to help people understand the stages of grief. I’d like to think that helped them,” says a somber Brett, reflecting on other sad days when an infant may not have survived.
“When things like that happen, you go home and cry. Even tough guys cry,” he notes.
Brett Michael Lukach was born in the old Goshen Hospital in 1966 and lived in Maybrook, NY. His parents divorced when he was two and Brett lived with his mother, Katherine, an administrative assistant at Stewart Airport’s Officer’s Club. His father, John, was a welder, and Brett adds that he was “privileged to have both sets of grandparents nearby.”
Young Brett attended elementary school in Maybrook, middle school (then sixth to eighth grades) at Valley Central and high school at Valley Central High School, both in Montgomery.
It was through his mother’s employment at Stewart Airport that Brett became interested in working in civil service. With his original plan to become a pilot, Brett pursued flight lessons and aviation studies as a teen. He soon learned that the course was a bit more challenging, with expensive flying lessons and also college courses necessary for entrance to the military.
It was ultimately a front page news article that finally lead Brett to the career he was meant to pursue and excel in. In Wurtsboro, NY, a teenage girl just about Brett’s age had been stalked, raped and ultimately killed by a stranger. Brett quickly realized that he needed to be a part of the action to stop horrible events such as this.
“It occurred to me that something should be done and I felt like I needed to make sure this stuff doesn’t happen. Sure, as an ultra-righteous teen, I thought I could save the world, but I felt that law enforcement was a path I was ready for,” said Brett, who soon took several civil service tests and chose the WPD.
Brett entered the Police Academy at Pomona in Rockland County at the end of August 1988.
“It was so enlightening. We experienced our first awkward attempts at military discipline under the eyes of some pretty scary drill instructors,” remembers Brett, who later realized that, “…in that setting they were there to help and turned out to be our best friends.”
He has since visited the newer police academy, commending the training for being even more militant than in years past.
“The level of discipline seems even higher and more intense with para-military training. Recruits have to maintain that demeanor all day. There are no ‘let your hair down’ moments,” observes Lukach.
His advice to these new classes of officers is simple. “There are rules to the game and you have to follow those rules. Be a good sport and don’t make bad decisions. Always remember the basic rules of sportsmanship and fair play,” he cautions.
With a relaxing retirement on his horizon, a 53-years-young Lukach can be found reading a good book with some good coffee, riding his Harley Davidson, or kicking back with a movie. He shares his Westtown home he built in 1998 with Gus, a 100-pound chocolate Labrador and St. Bernard mix, and Spike, a 175-pound pig.
He looks forward to working on some old motorcycles with his daughter, Sarah, 18, and riding with son, Sean, 22, as well as traveling, hunting and perhaps working some part time gigs.
Before riding his Harley off into the sunset, Brett reflects that, “I just like to leave things a little better than I found them and I think I did. I solved some problems and put things where they belong.”