Even after 32 years and a promotion to sergeant, no police officer is ever above a little ribbing from his fellow cops.
So when Sgt. Henry Santacroce walked out of Southold Police headquarters for the final time Saturday afternoon, one of the first questions he had to answer from a colleague was if he ever had to change uniform size.
“No,” he quickly responded to the handful of laughing officers within earshot. “Thirty-two years and the same size. Only gained 20 pounds.”
“All muscle,” one of them snapped back.
Following in a police tradition shared across departments, Sgt. Santacroce “walked out” Saturday to the sound of bagpipes and was met with smiles, laughter and applause from his fellow officers, who gathered to send him off.
“It’s meant a lot to be able to serve where I’ve lived,” the 55-year-old Southold native said.
The ability to help people in his community as a police officer and the friends he’s made on the force is what he said he’ll miss most.
Sgt. Santacroce, who followed his father, with whom he also shares a name and rank, into the department, initially joined as a part-time officer in 1984 — even serving about six years alongside his old man. He was promoted to a full-time role in 1986 and made sergeant in 2004.
Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley described Sgt. Santacroce as “mild-mannered” and said he served admirably as a supervisor for the patrolmen. He worked mostly nights, no easy task for a father of two girls, and also served as the property evidence officer. The sergeant said he’s most proud of the three years he spent as a D.A.R.E officer.
“In fact, one of my former students is here today as a fellow officer,” he said. “That’s nice to see.”
Presented with an opportunity to lay low for awhile, Sgt. Santacroce joked that he’ll now do exactly that.
“What will I do now?” he asked back. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
In reality, though, he said retirement will give him the chance to be there for his youngest daughter’s final years of high school and will also give him more time to spend with his wife, Ellen, who joined his parents at Saturday’s send-off. He also plans to do a little more fishing.
Chief Flatley said walkouts “aren’t much in the way of pomp and circumstance,” but they are a nice way to pay respects to a fellow police officer.
“It’s a great way for everyone to say goodbye,” he said.
And after 32 years on the job, a warm send-off and a few laughs would do any officer a little good.