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April 28, 2012

Reporter's Notebook: Outgoing chief has high hopes for OPD after interim stint

By Jake Palmateer
Daily Star

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Chief Gary O'Neill took over OPD with the department in turmoil from a police brutality investigation. There were also open wounds from a misconduct investigation in 2009 that resulted in the resignation of three officers. A fourth officer not tied directly to the case also resigned.

O'Neill, 60, is a former Broome County undersheriff and Endicott police chief. He was appointed as interim chief to guide the department during its transitional period. He continued to live in Endicott during his appointment, which ends this weekend.

But as I got to know him, it was clear he was becoming fond of the city. While discussing his departure, I asked him what he thought of Oneonta.

"I like it a lot," O'Neill said.

The chief spent his career in the Binghamton area and he said Oneonta seems a bit more cushioned from the economic woes. It is also a tight-knit community, he said.

"Coming up here was very refreshing," O'Neill said. "Everybody seems to work together."

In addition to improving morale within OPD, O'Neill was tasked with improving the public image of the department.

OPD recently launched Twitter and Facebook pages as a way to reach out to the public directly, according to O'Neill.

O'Neill said he measured his success with OPD by the reactions of the officers at the first department-wide meeting in May 2011 and his last, which was on Monday.

"When I went into the first department meeting people were looking at the walls and looking down," he recalled Wednesday. "This time, they were looking at me."

WONY celebrated its 50th anniversary last weekend as scores of alumni DJs returned to Oneonta to take over the broadcast booth.

The SUNY Oneonta college radio station, which broadcasts at 90.9 FM, has changed a lot over the years in terms of some things, according to David Ring. An associate professor of economics, Ring serves as the station's faculty advisor.

One of the big changes in recent decades is a web stream which allows the station to be broadcast over the Internet. The web stream attracts about 300 to 500 listeners a week. The station's website, Wonyfm.com, also maintains a downloadable playlist for each show.

WONY has its roots in 1961, when its first station manager was Gary Sparaca, who worked part-time at WDOS-AM. The AM station supplied a few old tape recorders and turntables to help get WONY off the ground.

While talking to soon-to-be Police Chief Dennis Nayor on Wednesday, he gave me an update on when the Oneonta Police Department will be fielding its new Tasers.

The council voted unanimously in March to approve the Tasers, which will be fielded initially by the department's five sergeants.

The sergeants will undergo training, according to Nayor, and OPD is expected to have the sergeants carrying them on duty sometime in June.

Nayor is slated to be sworn in Sunday and next week will be his first as the city's full-time police chief.

As lieutenant, Nayor has been The Daily Star's primary point of contact and I have had the opportunity to work with him while he filled that role starting in 2007, and before that when he was a sergeant.

Nayor is a likeable, engaging man who clearly has a love for the community and the police department, where he has served for 17 years.

He's a person whose enthusiasm shines through, and this was most clear to me when he showed me a picture of him shaking hands with FBI Director Robert Mueller. Nayor graduated from the FBI National Academy in 2010 and was congratulated by the longtime head of the FBI.

The picture hangs on his wall in the lieutenant's office and I have a good feeling it will be in a similar place in the chief's office across the hall next week.

Jake Palmateer can be reached at 432-1000 or (800) 721-1000, ext. 221, or at jpalmateer@thedailystar.com.