‘A Day without Joe’
NORTHAMPTON — Officers come and go from municipal police departments these days, but on Jan. 9, 1978, the city of Northampton hired what some might call a keeper.
After 36 years on the force, Police Capt. Joseph W. Koncas is retiring as he approaches the state’s mandatory retirement age of 65 for police officers. He turned in his badge and equipment Friday. His last official day with the city will be Monday — 13,222 days after he donned a Northampton police uniform.
“I’ve been extremely fortunate,” Koncas said in an interview with the Gazette that got a tad emotional. “It’s a wonderful police department, a great city and I had a great job and I enjoyed coming to work every day.”
A native of Easthampton, Koncas was one of nine officers hired in 1978, a group that included current Police Chief Russell P. Sienkiewicz with whom Koncas worked the midnight shift. He was promoted to sergeant in 1983 and spent only a few months as a lieutenant in 1985. The following year, in March 1986, Koncas was promoted to captain, a position he’s held since.
For many years, he was Sienkiewicz’s supervisor before the latter became chief. Sienkiewicz said the fact that Koncas rose to captain within eight years was a testament to his intelligence and work ethic — quickly recognized by others.
“He has a real sharp legal mind and is a calm, steady guy that never saw bad in anybody,” said Sienkiewicz. “We forged a bond and a friendship. He’s one of the most dedicated, honest and hard-working city employees I’ve ever seen.”
As an example of that honesty, Sienkiewicz talked about a bound book in the police department that records found property.
“If he found a quarter on the railroad tracks, he’d bring it in, put it in an envelope and then write in the book that he found a quarter on the railroad tracks,” Sienkiewicz said.
Last Wednesday, the Police Department threw a surprise party with gifts for Koncas, who is not one for such fanfare. Sienkiewicz said he had to force the beloved police captain into the community room.
“I had to grab at him, it was a struggle,” Sienkiewicz said. “I had to put an arm lock on him to get him not to run away.”
Sienkiewicz said Friday was an emotional day for everyone at the Police Department as Koncas made the rounds and said his goodbyes.
“I was walking in this morning saying ‘What’s it going to be like to start a day without Joe?’” Sienkiewicz said.
Koncas, who now lives in Hadley, has for the past 28 years overseen the police department’s administration, including managing its records, resources and support operations. More recently, he played a leading administrative role in procuring services and managing construction of the new police station on Center Street.
“He’s been a great mentor to so many people, so many police officers who have come up through the ranks,” said Northampton Mayor David J. Narkewicz, the fifth mayor Koncas has worked under. “It’s a sad day. It’s a lot of knowledge and experience walking out the door.”
Narkewicz recalled that Koncas gave him a wood-carved shillelagh when he became mayor, a treasured memento he keeps in his office.
“He’s had an amazing career and is an amazing person, frankly,” the mayor said. “I think you’d be hard-pressed in the city to find anybody who doesn’t hold him in high regard.”
Koncas said the Police Department has certainly changed over the years, but no more so than in the area of technology. When he started, police were using teletype machines, rotary dial telephones and portable radios the size of a brick, outdated technology that has been replaced by laptop computers in cruisers, GPS tracking devices, and high-tech cell phones.
“It’s changed tremendously,” Koncas said.
He said demands of the job could be tedious at times, and he might not miss that aspect of his work, but said his experiences in the department and the city have been mostly positive over the years.
“I’ve gotten to work with people at the Police Department that I can honestly describe as phenomenal,” Koncas said. “They’re unbelievably empathetic and respectful to people. I’ve been extremely fortunate.”
The Police Department plans to hire a new captain in the wake of Koncas’ retirement and until that time, newly promoted Police Capt. Dorothy Clayton, the first female captain on the force, is fulfilling a dual role of captain of operations and administration.
In retirement, Koncas said he plans to enjoy time with his 3-month-old granddaughter and a grandson that’s on the way.
“I imagine that’s going to be occupying some of my time,” he said.
Dan Crowley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.