After almost thirty years, retirement is the next case up for Sgt. Patrick Sweeney — city detective, evidence custodian and bagpiper extraordinaire.
Sweeney stepped out of the police station for the last time last week, saluted by his fellow police and fire officers. Retired Sgt. Elizabeth Starr, herself a former city detective, played bagpipes for the one who usually plays the musical salute.
“We’re going to miss him around here,” said Chief F. Michael Catalano in an interview Friday. “I worked with him his entire career. We go back a long ways.”
For Sweeney, that long career started over 30 years ago with the Cortland County Sheriff’s Office, said Catalano. Catalano also started with the Sheriff’s Office and the pair worked together as deputies. A few years after that Sweeney joined Catalano on the road patrol with city police.
That’s where Lt. Michael Strangeway first met Sweeney.
“I first worked with Pat on the road as a patrolman,” Strangeway said. “We were both patrolmen.”
What stood out to Strangeway about Sweeney was his decency and humour.
“He was fair with everyone he arrested,” Strangeway said of Sweeney. “He took his work seriously, but he didn’t take himself seriously.”
Sweeney was always ready with a quip, no matter how odd or archaic, Strangeway noted. When picking on other officers that wore gloves instead of going bare handed in the no matter the weather like himself, Sweeney would quip, “A cat with mittens never caught a mouse.”
But his quips were most hilarious when he and his brother, retired Firefighter Mike Sweeney, combined their powers. Mike Sweeney, who worked as a dispatcher before his firefighter career, retired from the Cortland Fire Department in May. Watching the brothers exchange comic shots was enough to leave anyone in stitches.
Comic relief to brighten the often dark hours of a police shift was far from Sweeney’s only contribution to the department: he was also a dedicated and effective detective.
“He’s been a great detective for us,” Catalano said, noting he worked and solved his “fair share of serious cases.”
Sweeney also worked behind the scenes for 15 years as the department’s evidence custodian.
“That is a very important job,” Strangeway said. “The collection, the documentation, the storage and the safe-keeping of evidence is of paramount importance in the prosecution of criminal cases.”
The department maintains a vast library of evidence from investigations it has conducted over the decades, whether minor or serious, from shoplifting to murders, he said.
Twice a year the department conducts an evidence audit, randomly checking on 50 pieces of evidence out of the ten of thousands it stores, Strangeway noted. “He always found every single item,” Strangeway said of Sweeney. “We’re talking about cases that are over 20 years old.”
With Sweeney’s retirement, an officer from another emergency services family will take over as detective and evidence custodian: Sgt. Sean Byrnes.
“Sean’s a great employee,” said Catalano. Byrnes, a 14 year veteran of the department, was serving as a road patrol sergeant before his promotion. “[Byrnes is] very knowledgeable. He’s an extremely well-respected supervisor.”
Sean Byrnes is also one half of the Byrnes brothers at the department: Brendan Byrnes, his younger sibling, is a patrolman.
While Catalano has full confidence Sean Byrnes will ably take over Sweeney’s duties, there’s one job Sweeney performed that Byrnes may not have the talent for: bagpiping.
Sweeney routinely bagpiped for city ceremonies and memorials, such as the 911 memorial and the Fire Chief Charles Glover’s retirement.
“Now we have no more bagpipers,” Catalano said glumly. But what Catalano said he will really miss is Sweeney’s presence and dedication that acted as a staple for the department.
It’s the chats together Strangeway will miss the most.
“He usually comes in the morning and has a cup of coffee with me,” Strangeway said. “I’ll miss that.”
And it’s that sense of absence that shows how important Sweeney’s presence was.
“He did a great job,” Catalano said, “and his longevity here speaks for itself.”