By Janee Law
Eric “Ric” Bruckenthal came to the Northport Village Police Department in 1978, back when the community largely consisted of blue-collar workers and his job entailed breaking up bar fights.
A lot has changed since then, with the village taking on a higher white-collar demographic. But Bruckenthal’s commitment to law enforcement hasn’t.
“I love all aspects of policing,” he said. “From being in the street, to talking to people, till now.”
But after 40 years on the job, Bruckenthal, 62, Northport’s police chief since 2000, is set to retire on Friday.
Though he initially planned to join the military, becoming a police officer was the better alternative at the time.
“I wanted to perform some type of service to my community and to the nation.”
Before joining the Northport police, Bruckenthal grew up in Queens, attending Andrew Jackson High School and then John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
He became a police officer in October 1975 and worked for the Asharoken Police Department for 3 ½ years before he was transferred to Northport in 1978. Bruckenthal stayed with the village for 37 years.
After moving to Northport in 1982, Bruckenthal admits that things were different when he first started. It was more of a solid middle-class, blue-collar type of place, he said, and the policing consisted of “refereeing” bar fights on the weekends.
Currently serving 8,300 residents in the Village of Northport, it has changed to an upper-class, white-collar place.
“I joke around and call it Mayberry, but I mean it with a lot of love,” he said. “Northport has been great to me. It’s a great place, and I love the community.”
Serving in law enforcement, Bruckenthal said he enjoyed interacting with people. “You deal with people who are not having their best day and you try to do your best to improve it if you can.”
As he moved up in ranks from police officer, sergeant in July 1984, lieutenant in October 1994, and then chief in April 2000, Bruckenthal said what changed was the level of responsibility.
“You’re on call 24/7, you’re responsible for everything and everyone who works for you,” he said. “Sometimes, we don’t do everything right. But we try hard and learn from mistakes.”
With this responsibility, Bruckenthal said that you either except it and excel at it or you don’t, but he thinks he did a pretty good job throughout the years.
“He was a great boss to work for,” said Lt. Bill Ricca, who has worked with Bruckenthal since 1991. “He made for a very productive and very satisfying workplace.”
During his early years as chief, Bruckenthal’s position as chief was threatened by the village administration. “I couldn’t tell you what it was,” he said. “The administration at the time, led by the mayor, didn’t like me.”
To remove Bruckenthal from his position, they began a trial hearing and then dropped the charges after his son Nate died in Iraq in 2004.
“He was a very eclectic type of guy,” Bruckenthal said about his son, who was 25 years old at the time and served in the Coast Guard. “He was a funny guy. He was a stand-up comic and towards the end, he was a moose. He’d be the guy going through the door first.”
Bruckenthal has three other children: Noabeth, 38, Mathew, 27, and Michael, 24. He met his second wife, Patricia, in 1980.
Bruckenthal said that during his career, during which delivering two babies, he acted by this principle: “treat people the way you want them to treat you and your family.”
Her now passes that creed on to Ricca, 49, a 30-year law enforcement officer who will take over as Northport chief of police on Sunday.
“The last two years, he’s been shadowing me,” Bruckenthal said. “He’s a great guy and he’ll be great.”
Ricca said Bruckenthal looked out for his men and he looked out for the job itself. “My hope is to grab the football and run with it from the groundwork that he laid,” he said.
As far as his plans for the future, Bruckenthal he plans to spend some time at his second home in Florida, “especially in the winter.”
“It’s been a really good ride and it’s time to get off the merry-go-round.”