By Roz Hamlett, Portfolio Editor
Photography by Mercedes Guzman, Police Blogger
The praise for Lt. Joseph Macaluso was widespread as family and friends, members of the Port Authority Police Department and hundreds of others gathered at the Holland Tunnel this week to give “Joe Mac” a proper goodbye as he retired from the PAPD after 35 years of service.
“I’m here to thank you and salute you,” said Lt. Macaluso. “Thank you for listening to me and learning from me. I tried my best to teach you the best I knew.”
The Holland Tunnel Maintenance Garage had been transformed overnight into an event hall festooned with balloons and a feast laid out on buffet tables stretching from the back of the garage to the front. But it was not until Lt. Macaluso made his appearance flanked on both sides by a deep brigade of officers was anyone really sure he was actually going to retire.
In between the camaraderie and ceremony, there was a bittersweet undercurrent – part sadness mixed with hilarity – as old-school PAPD leaders stood shoulder-to-shoulder with a younger brotherhood of blue, many of whom “Joe Mac” had trained and mentored, and who were now detectives and Bosses.
Superintendent of Police, Chief Mike Fedorko, called Lt. Macaluso a “consummate leader, teacher, overall good guy. . . a true leader.”
Lt. Robert Vargas of the Holland Tunnel Command first met Joe Mac in 1997 when they were in the PAPD Sergeant’s Supervisory School together. Lt. Vargas shared many funny stories about the man he knew so well. There was the one about how Joe Mac chose law enforcement as his career. The story goes that a young Joseph saw a red bicycle in a store when he was eight years old. His mother told him to save money and he could buy his bicycle. So Joe used his Communion money to purchase the bicycle. He was one happy young man until he saw a thief break into his shed and ride away with his bicycle. “This was the beginning of Joe Mac the law enforcer,” said Lt. Vargas.
Or the one about the day he single-handedly cleared a major traffic jam after a rainstorm and flooding had backed up traffic into NYC. Noticing that the catch basin was full of debris, Lt. Macaluso first used his nightstick to poke unsuccessfully at the debris. Next, he stuck his arm into the basin and started removing debris with his bare hand to break open the clog. The water went down like a whirlpool, the roadway drained and two lanes of traffic cleared immediately.
During his 14 years at the Holland Tunnel, Lt. Macaluso made some 3,000 arrests that included weapon possessions, robberies, narcotics, DWIs, theft and larcenies. He received 14 meritorious medals during his Port Authority career.
In 2013, for example, Lt. Macaluso played a major role in nabbing a motorist suspected of taking part in the shooting of nine people in East Flatbush by hatching a plan to use more than a dozen PAPD vehicles that would give the wanted man nowhere to run.
Joe Tuzzolino, a friend and retired detective at the Clifton Police Department compared retirement for a police officer to the process of grief. “[Lt. Macaluso’s] retirement is a loss for him. The hours and the dangers associated with the job are connected to such an extent that it takes awhile to get it out of your system.”
Lt. Macaluso’s career in law enforcement began at the Clifton, NJ Police Academy in 1978, and two years later he joined the PAPD, where his first assignment was JFK International Airport. He worked his way up the ranks to his next assignment at the Lincoln Tunnel, where he spent 18 years earning the rank of Sergeant before assuming command at PATH. Ultimately he was assigned the Holland Tunnel Command.
As his Final Roll Call ended, Lt. Macaluso closed out his command with the same words he had used countless times before, “Please stay alert and be alive.”