Written by Linda Portney Goldstein Friday, 26 August 2011 00:00
Life can be funny. Growing up in Glen Cove, John Melillo did not even know there was a Village of Sands Point just across Hempstead Harbor. Yet, in one of life’s quirky twists, John Melillo became an integral part of the Sands Point community, spending most of his adult life working as a Sands Point police officer. When Melillo retired after 41 years of service, many of the residents he served so loyally for so long, along with his fellow police officers, turned out to mark the occasion at a celebratory dinner at the Village Club.
John Melillo started his professional life with the Nassau County Department of Corrections, a job he took because it provided benefits and stability. It wasn’t too long before he realized the corrections department was not for him and he moved on to the Long Island Railroad Police Force with challenging assignments from Montauk to Brooklyn.
But Melillo was looking for something that would offer more personal gratification and he found it with the Sands Point Police Department. Melillo loved the community interaction afforded him by being part of a small police department. He got to know the village residents. He is able to recount many memorable, often humorous, experiences, like the time a raccoon was caught in an automatic garage door. Responding to the call, Officer Melillo suggested lowering the door and that worked. The raccoon scampered out unharmed. “There were many calls like that. Residents tended to call us for everything including frozen pipes. We always responded, did what we could and told them who to call. Our presence seemed reassuring.”
There were challenges to the job outside the line of duty, such as pay, benefits and poor equipment. Melillo remembers having to rent cars when the department was short of equipment and observing another police car as the light fell off the roof. Police cars were not air-conditioned and the men had to change into uniforms in a leaky basement. Melillo became an activist on the police force. He advocated for pay parity with the Nassau County Police Force, increased benefits and better working conditions. He eventually became PBA President and held that position for 23 years.
While Officer Melillo made his mark in the community and with his fellow officers, he also became a symbol of a bygone era, when people took a job for a lifetime. There was a sense of loyalty to the employer. In his job interview so many years ago, when asked, “How do we know how long you will stay?” His answer, “I don’t plan on leaving,” proved him to be a man of his word. Melillo says that for him it was easy. “I loved what I did. The people were great. I always wanted to be close to the community.”