WILKES-BARRE — So much for listening to his older brother about career choices.
City Police Chief Gerard Dessoye announced his long-rumored retirement Wednesday after 33 years on the force, rising to lead the more than 90-member department from patrolman.
Dessoye, 57, will leave his $91,305-a-year position later this month to take over as executive director of campus safety and security at King’s College, where he graduated in 1979 with a degree in criminal justice.
A decorated officer — Dessoye has been shot, and himself shot and killed a man — the outgoing chief acknowledged his brother Michael, chief detective with the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office, discouraged him from following in his footsteps as a policeman.
“He’s the reason I took this job,” Dessoye said of his big brother by nine years. “He’s always been my role model.”
Michael returned the compliment.
“He’s my best friend,” the county detective said. He started as police officer in Avoca in 1969 and worked there for 10 years before moving to the county job. His brother worked in Avoca and Pittston Township before joining Wilkes-Barre in 1981.
‘A cop’s cop’
Fortunately, Michael Dessoye said, his younger brother survived the shooting in a city hotel that wounded him, and he still has a rod from his knee to the ankle in one of his legs that was shattered during a raid at a bar on South Main Street in the early 1990s.
He was awarded three combat cross medals and two purple shields from the department in addition to the distinguished service award medal and the Pennsylvania Narcotics Officers Association Heroism Award.
“He loved the job. They say he’s a cop’s cop,” the older brother said.
“I’ve gotten my licks,” Gerard Dessoye said.
He’s been able to keep the job fresh by taking on different roles within the department.
“I was fortunate to be able to change my spot in the police department on a regular enough basis,” he said. “Ultimately I’m at the top of my career now. There are no forward challenges.”
The decision to move on from Wilkes-Barre was something Gerard Dessoye said he was looking at for a while. He wanted to make a change while he was still marketable, in order to provide for his family.
“Why now? Because an opportunity presented itself to me,” he explained.
When Mayor Tom Leighton took office and appointed him chief in 2004, Dessoye said he gave notice that he was good for two terms to head the department. It was “no secret” after that I would start to look for another job, he said.
Raid not a factor
The recent federal indictment of a city police officer and a former officer on alleged fraud charges in connection with the Wilkes-Barre City Employees Federal Credit Union played no role in his decision, he said.
Dessoye compared the department to a business, saying, “Occasionally you have employees that do something that’s embarrassing to the organization.” There have been other instances where officers were let go under his administration, he said.
Dessoye’s retirement takes effect on Sept. 14, but the mayor did not return a call for comment on when he would name a replacement.
In a prepared statement Leighton praised Dessoye for his service to the city.
“He has been a tremendous asset to the city having worked with numerous law enforcement agencies over the past 11 years. I wish him nothing but the best with his retirement and any future endeavors,” Leighton said.
The transition to the private sector from the public sector will take some adjustment due to the nature of the job, Dessoye pointed out.
“Enforcement will not be the primary concern, safety will be,” Dessoye said.
At King’s Dessoye will oversee a department of 45 people and be responsible for not only the safety of the students, faculty and staff, but also maintaining relationships between the school, the police department and Luzerne County.
John Loyack, vice president for business affairs and chief financial officer at King’s, said Dessoye’s connection to the school and the city helped in his hiring. “His experience with managing a large group, dealing with armed officers … all of those things played a role,” Loyack said.
Six people were interviewed for the position and many more applied, Loyack said. He added that Dessoye did well in his interview outlining “his plan to help elevate” the ambassador role of the members of the security and safety staff when they deal with students and others in the community.
Loyack had limited contact with Dessoye as chief, but those who worked with him during the past three decades praised his professionalism.
Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan said that Dessoye has a lot of friends in law enforcement locally and has been inducted into the International Police Hall of Fame in Titusville, Florida. He’s worked dangerous drug case and gained the respect and trust of fellow officers. He credited Dessoye’s longevity to his commitment to police work.
“It takes someone who enjoys the job, and he does,” said Noonan, who was also an FBI agent and member of the state Office of Attorney General prior to be taking the top job with state police.
State Capitol Police Superintendent Joe Jacob said his experience dates back to when he and Dessoye were members of the Luzerne County Drug Task force.
“He is the utmost professional when it comes to law enforcement,” said Jacob, former police chief in Wright Township.
Dessoye doesn’t seek out attention and prefers to give credit to the officers, Jacob said.
“King’s got themselves a good cop,” Jacob said.
As a young assistant district attorney in 1986 Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. tried a rape case and won a conviction that he credited to Dessoye who was the police investigator.
“It was a difficult case,” said Olszewski who went on to become district attorney and a county judge. The jury found Dessoye to be honest and understandable and credible, Olszewski said.
The young prosecutor also was assigned to the city’s Emergency Services Unit. He recalled that Dessoye and another officer, Norbert Swithers, were the point men who were most exposed in dangerous situations, including a hostage situation on North Street in which the hostage taker was killed, and a shooting at an East End motel.
Olszewski defended Dessoye against the several websites that attacked him, saying “It’s a shame that certain individuals recently have some type of vendetta against him for all the wrong reasons.”
They critics have no concept of who Dessoye is, Olszewski said.
“I would put my life in Gerry Dessoye’s hands,” Olszewski said. “He always cared about what he did. He put his heart and soul into his work.”