Nason has been a good police chief

We were pretty tough on Bruce Nason when he began as Saranac Lake police chief in 2008, and before that, so was the village committee that hired him. We still believe that level of scrutiny was necessary. After all, his predecessor had lost the job by covering up an alcohol-related crash by Mr. Nason, driving a village car. As a sergeant shielded by his union, Mr. Nason had been able to avoid public interrogation over that incident (for which he was suspended for six months without pay), but a chief can’t duck and cover like that, and the questions were waiting for him.

To his credit, he faced them head-on and got the job – and has done well at it these last six years. We want to thank him for that.

Now he’s announced he’ll retire this coming winter. After putting in 20 years at the village department, the 47-year-old and his wife plan to move to Vermont, where he’s seeking another law-enforcement job. We wish him well.

It always surprises us how early the retirement age is for police. That’s nothing against Chief Nason, who is just following the program for his profession. However, it seems a waste of experienced, talented people – and of tax dollars – to let them retire in their 40s and collect pensions and benefits while they begin second careers, and while the taxpayers pay others to replace them. We understand it’s better to have younger officers out there dealing with rough-and-tumble police work, but that doesn’t need to apply to senior officers such as chiefs, who often aren’t out on the beat.

Chief Nason, however, is regularly seen walking the beat, and that’s something we like best about him. It’s not strictly necessary for every police department to have its chief out on foot patrol, but it’s a great benefit to have this leader be so visible – and to make a priority of foot patrol, and the community interaction that goes along with it.

Chief Nason told the Enterprise earlier this week that he hasn’t accomplished all the goals he had set for himself when he started, such as getting his department accredited. He’s right that more would get done if the department had more staff. He currently has 11 officers working under him, and he’d like to have 15. However, a village the size of Saranac Lake really can’t afford more police than it has, especially with the cost of gear and training being so high these days.

Not only has Chief Nason managed to have a strong local police department despite a limited budget; he’s also done so through an increase in crime. Hard drugs like heroin and methamphetamine used to be unknown here, but now they’re a major problem. Meanwhile, police had to deal with a wave of prescription drug abuse.

The SLPD has managed its own investigations but has not been afraid to turn to other agencies, such as the state police, for help as needed. And the SLPD has had some big cases that required a fair bit of investigative work, including an alleged murder, a domestic shooting and several manhunts for missing people.

From a news reporter’s standpoint, Chief Nason has been good to work with: accessible, open and reasonable, even while guarding information to protect ongoing investigations. As with any important job, we suspect there were times when he was pretty stressed, but he’s been careful not to vent that out to the public. He’s been good at maintaining professional calm.

The SLPD seems stable under his command. He hasn’t made big, headline-grabbing proposals or pushed boundaries with new gear and expanded duties. Rather, he seems to have carried out the glamor-less job of running a small-town police department with pragmatism and persistence. Kudos to that.

It’ll be interesting to see who replaces him and what the future of the SLPD will be like.