by Joseph DeGweck
As I drove along Route 33 toward downtown Buffalo, my mind was focusing on many issues; but it wasn’t until I saw a crew of Highway Department workers, cleaning debris, that I suddenly focused on my speed. I thought how ironic it would be if I would get a speeding ticket, considering where I was going. It was an unusual mid-January afternoon. The sun was brilliantly shining and its warmth penetrated my windshield with enough heat that I needed not to turn on my car heater. Fortunately as I peered down at my speedometer, I found that I was cruising just slightly above the speed limit and I chose to slow down as I passed the group of workers. They are someone’s son or daughter, mother or father, brother or sister and loved by many, as we all are. Their safety must be carefully considered. It is my responsibility as I drive by. I thought once again how strange that the January weather in Buffalo, New York, would permit such a task to take place – cleaning litter off of the highway escarpment of green grass, which is usually snow covered and frozen by now.
Ten minutes later, I arrived at my destination. I had a 3:30 p.m. appointment to interview our newly appointed Police Commissioner for this article. Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson was gracious enough to accept After 50’s offer to feature him in this February issue. I hope that I can accurately portrait him as the man I found him to be. He is a man who left me with a secure sense of hope for this city and therefore; a secure sense of hope for this region. The Commissioner greeted me with a firm handshake, a confident expression in his eyes, a gentle voice and an opened mindedness that few people possess.
Mac, the Man
His first words to me were that “my friends refer to me as Mac.” It was as though he had extended to me the liberty of congenial discourse and friendship. It was his way of bringing comfort and console to our conversation. It was natural and sincere.
Mac was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. Between the ages of 10-16 his family had moved to Paris, France where his step-father was stationed with the military. After returning stateside, he lived for one year in New Jersey and then returned home to Buffalo. Mac graduated from Bennett High School in 1967 and then entered The University of Buffalo to pursue a degree in law. He was raised with his two step-brothers and an adopted niece. His voice resounded with a tone of pride as he spoke of his family. Together with his wife, Teresa, married now for 27 years, they raised four children, two boys and two girls. They are all grown now, young adults. And once again, a tone of dignity and delight resounded as he spoke of them. Mac seemed to be as secure, confident and contented as a father and husband as he was being a professional police officer.
Commissioner McCarthy Gipson also enjoys playing golf. In his own humble words he expresses his game as “getting golfed” not playing golf. Once again Mac articulates his responsiveness towards hope and his aspiration for a greater purpose. He enjoys traveling and claims that even though “there are beautiful places in the world to see” traveling “makes me appreciate home more”. Mac also enjoys just “kicking back”, looking up at the sun” and “watching the clouds form different shapes”. He seems to be a man of vision entrenched in the reality of life’s veracious nature.
Mac, the Peace Officer
Mac describes his pursuit toward a career as a police officer as a “fluke”. “Being a child of the sixties I wasn’t necessarily gravitating toward law enforcement”. In 1970, while Mac was working his way through college on the second shift at Western Electric, he was persuaded by a friend to take the Community Peace Officer examination. Grant Hainesworth, director of Crime Control Planning for the City of Buffalo, was bowling with Mac on a Western Electric Bowling League. Mr. Hainesworth convinced Mac to take the exam and Mac considers himself “blessed” to have finished number two on the exam. When offered the opportunity, he took it. The Commissioner thought that this would probably just be a stepping stone toward becoming a lawyer. “I wound up dropping out of law school playing cops and robbers, I was enjoying myself so much”.
In 1971 he enjoyed his start with the police department as a Community Peace Officer, the lowest position in the department. Wearing his green uniform, unarmed, doing non-enforcement work Mac performed such duties as tag enforcement, paperwork, desk duty, and the dog census. After 18 months he became a police officer in 1973 and his first duty was at Precinct 6. In 1974 Mac joined the street crime unit when it was first formed to address violent felony crime in the streets. His office is decorated with pictures of his past and the one of the street crime unit looks like it came right out of a “MOD SQUAD” episode. In 1988 he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and was assigned to Precinct 8. In 1993 Mac was promoted to Captain and went to Precinct 4. During this 22 year period Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson had worked at all inner city police precincts, each one of them twice and he had a stint in the TPU. He worked within the internal affairs unit of the police department and after it was changed to the Professional Standards Division, Mac became the department’s first staff inspections captain. He helped develop the policy on the drug testing of officers. In 1998 newly elected Sheriff Gallavan, after a national search, offered Mac the position of Superintendent of the Erie County Holding Center. He retired from the Buffalo Police Department and accepted this new position with the Sheriffs Department. For well over 30 years, Mac’s experience provided him with a wealth of knowledge and skills that today fuel the passion and enthusiasm he has toward his tenure as Police Commissioner.
When asked to regale our readers with memorable experiences Mac simply said; “there are more than I can remember”. But he did share with me the time he first shot a man who had attempted a robbery armed with a shotgun. It was not a fatal wound but that moment is forever engraved in the mind of the Police Commissioner. He remembers how his hand was shaking after getting back into his car and how he was moved to tears of compassion for what had happened and by thoughts of what might have happened. Another time he recalls his sense of helplessness when called to an assault at 4:00 A.M. There he found “a lady of the night” who had been attacked by a client with a machete. As he called for help over the radio and she pleaded with him to help her, Officer H. McCarthy Gipson “slowly watched life leave her eyes”. It made him realize that often we are powerless and often circumstance dictates destiny. Even today Commissioner H McCarthy Gipson had a quiver in his voice as he recalled this tragic event.
Mac also shared some of the good and humorous times he has experienced. He spoke of the sense of satisfaction he has when helping families recover their stolen possessions. Regular people, hard working people, prideful of what little they have and yet it was taken from them. Falling victim of others selfishness and having their homes and families violated. He spoke of the bond he has formed with families and communities. Of a woman and her family who had befriended him after he and his partner recovered a television set stolen at knife point against her three year old daughter’s throat in their home. How her 29 year old son still calls him “Uncle Mac”. He spoke of a lady walking with her son, who had Downs Syndrome, and how she was attacked by a man trying to rob her purse. Mac apprehended the assailant and several weeks later he received a handmade Raggedy Anne Doll from the lady for his daughter. His daughter still has that doll and Mac still cherishes that sense of gratitude for performing his duty. Mac laughed as he spoke of the time he had kicked in a door and his leg had gotten stuck as he watched the perpetrators flee out the back door. Fortunately his partner was waiting there to arrest them.
I also had the opportunity to talk to one of his police officers. He had nothing but good to say. He spoke of how the Commissioner occasionally rides on patrol with them. He used words like approachable, respectful, real, sincere, compassionate and understanding to describe his boss. He expressed a sense of hope for the department and the respect the other officers had for this man, Mac. “He is one of us and always will be”.
Mac, the Visionary
As the interview concluded, Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson spoke of the future of the Buffalo Police Department. He was appreciative of all the concerted efforts that the other law enforcement agencies had contributed toward fighting crime in the city and the region. He was hopeful that future relationships with these agencies would intensify and that cooperation and camaraderie would prevail in order to curb the crime rate within the city. Mac spoke with pride of the professional attitude displayed by all his officers. He told me how he felt that the $450,000,000 of permitted building activity within the city of Buffalo would be instrumental in providing a rebound for this community. The fact that residential housing development is taking place in downtown Buffalo was promising. Mac believes that the city of Buffalo is the driving force that will direct and define the future of Western New York. “As the city goes, so goes the region”.
Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson hopes to take the Buffalo Police department into the 21st Century. He spoke of the concept of “intelligent policing”. It is a proactive initiative using video surveillance from hot spots throughout the city that would be transmitted to a central location and monitored. It could be used to track crime trends and to deploy resources to areas of concern. The implementation of this is being investigated.
The Commissioner also expressed concern of the recitative rate of crimes; repeat criminals. 6 % of the criminals commit 62% of the crime. More focus must be placed on resources that can track individuals that are responsible for certain crimes.
When asked what his greatest challenges were, Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson replied:
“It is twofold”, “dealing with the control board and as a result of the control board hamstringing the administration in the city, dealing with the police union”. “Those two forces are opposing each other and consequently opposing me and the administration as we try to do what needs to be done for the benefit of the citizens”. “I see Buffalo on the rebound, I see the city growing” “The police department needs to be a very integral part of that growth and development.” “If Buffalo is not a safe place to live, raise a family and do business, then the city is not going to grow.”
Mac implores us all to create a “culture of trust” within the community. He considers us the “eyes and ears of the police” and “everyone’s neighbor”. He considers it our “civic responsibility to stand up for justice”.
Mac is a man with a vision; or perhaps this month it may be more appropriate to call it “A Dream”. He is adamant in his intent to give back to this city all that it has given him. He considers our readers to be a very powerful group with skills, abilities and talents and he would like to encourage us all to make ourselves available. Help the younger generation by volunteering or contributing to youth centers.
As I left the Commissioner’s Office at 74 Franklin, I found that the weather had changed; as it often does in Buffalo. The afternoon sunshine had transformed into clouds blown in off of Lake Erie. It was snowing and traffic on Church St. was backed up past Main. Bumper to bumper were the cars as I weaved between them and a brisk wind penetrated to the bone. But I stood steadfast with a new optimism conceived in the words that Mac had left with me. The hope he had for this city and the passion he endowed on this community. He quoted a verse from scripture “that all things God works for the good of those who love him”. It just didn’t seem that cold now and the city didn’t seem that vulnerable.
|Police Commissioner H. McCarthy
|The On-Line Edition of After 50
Newspaper for Western New York's Young @ Heart