Sam Gabriele always seemed to connect with the residents he was policing.
One way or another, the Rotterdam police lieutenant had a knack for bringing potentially volatile situations under control with his ability to relate to people.
Gabriele used this ability when he took charge of an armed standoff situation in town during the early 1970s.
“Sam took off his gun belt and dropped it on the ground like John Wayne,” recalled retired Chief Paul Mantica, who was then a young officer. “He told the guy, ‘I want to come in and I want to talk to you.’ ”
Several moments later, Gabriele walked out of the house with the man, no shots fired and no one injured. Mantica said the scene showed the calm and neighborly approach the veteran cop brought to his 32 years on the force.
“That’s the kind of person Sam was,” he said. “Sam figured he could handle that situation and he did — he handled it well.”
Gabriele, a lifetime resident of Schenectady County and a war veteran, died Sunday after a long illness. He was 77.
Born in Schenectady, Gabriele was a standout athlete at Nott Terrace High School, where he played baseball and football. He served four years in the Navy and earned the rank of quartermaster during the Korean War.
Longtime Rotterdam Chief Joe Dominelli said Gabriele was among the top three candidates for a spot on the Rotterdam force in 1960. But when he interviewed Gabriele — a calm and intelligent man with a football lineman’s frame — Dominelli knew he had the right guy.
“Sam was the kind of person a chief looks for,” he said. “Immediately, I said ‘I know who I want, I want him.’ ”
Gabriele rose through the ranks quickly, gaining respect within the department and throughout the community. His gregarious nature seemed to make him a popular peacemaker among residents, who frequently requested him by name when seeking help.
“I got more calls for Sam than I got for anyone,” reflected Dominelli. “You could send him on domestic complaints, he’d calm them both down and then sit down to have a cup of coffee with them.”
Gabriele was also a quick learner, said Geoge “Bud” White, a sergeant who trained him as a patrolman. White said Gabriele’s gift for conciliation was backed up by muscle.
“He was a great diplomat,” he said. “But if you riled him, he could get the job done.”
Gabriele was the type of cop that understood the humane side of police work, said Mike Kirvin, a 29-year veteran of the force and son of late Supervisor John Kirvin. For years, he said Gabriele served as a mentor to the younger guys joining the force.
“He laid the groundwork for us,” said Kirvin, who joined the department when Gabriele was a sergeant. “He was very disciplined and he said ‘This is what we can and can’t do.’ He was just a good and decent man.”
Gabriele was also active politically, once serving as an elections commissioner. After his retirement in 1992, he contemplated running for office, and was mentioned for a run for Town Board as recently as last year.
“He was just an all-around nice guy,” Mantica said. “I don’t think there was anyone he couldn’t get along with or who couldn’t get along with him.”
Gabrielle’s wife, Tina, died before him; their daughter, Jennifer Kaplan, of Rotterdam, survives. He is also survived by five grandchildren.