SCHENECTADY — Gregory Kaczmarek, the city’s former police chief who led the department through a federal investigation before eventually being convicted on felony drug charges after retiring, died Saturday following a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 70.
A 27-year veteran of the Schenectady Police Department, Kaczmarek served six years as chief beginning in 1996 until he retired in 2002.
Kaczmarek had a background in nursing but eventually pursued a career in law enforcement, following in the footsteps of his father, John Kaczmarek, who capped off a decades-long law enforcement career of his own as the undersheriff of the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Office.
Kaczmarek leaves behind a wife, seven children and 14 grandchildren.
Former Mayor Albert Jurczynski, who appointed Kaczmarek chief not long after taking office, said Kaczmarek was one of his best managers, who consistently brought the police department under budget and was “tough on crime.”
“It ended up being a good move on my part,” he said. “I always found him (Kaczmarek) to be loyal and honest.”
Jurczynski said the appointment was controversial at the time, noting that Kaczmarek was one of three candidates up for the job and rumors of his past drug use were rampant.
But Kaczmarek approached the mayor denying the rumors and suggested holding a press conference asking anyone with credible information linking him to the rumors to come forward — a move that Jurczynski said he respected.
“Nobody came forth,” Jurczynski said.
Still, Jurczynski acknowledged that Kaczmarek inherited a police department plagued with issues and controlled by the union rather than administrative, a problem he blamed on political decisions made years earlier.
The issue came to a head in 1999 when the FBI launched an investigation into the department after officers were accused of picking up David Sampson, a 27-year-old Black man, and leaving him miles outside of the city along a rural road in Glenville.
Four officers would be sentenced to federal prison as a result of the investigation, including two who plead guilty and two others who were convicted by a jury on accusations that included providing drugs to undercover informants.
Another officer killed himself amid the probe.
Jurczynski said the investigation was a dark period for the department and city, adding that Kaczmarek offered to resign at the investigation’s onset. But Kaczmarek instead stayed in his position and the city cooperated with the investigation.
“It was a rough road for everybody involved,” Jurczynski said.
Kaczmarek eventually retired in 2002 and went on to open a pizza shop in the city and took a managerial position at a local IHOP.
In 2008, he faced an investigation of his own, having been linked to two dozen individuals running a drug trafficking ring by the state’s Attorney General’s Office.
Kaczmarek eventually plead guilty for his role and was sentenced to two years in prison.
Kevin Luibrand, an attorney who represented Kaczmarek, said he believes the sentence was harsh, adding that Kaczmarek likely would have been sentenced to a diversion program had one existed at the time of his sentencing.
Luibrand, who represented dozens of clients that sued the city for police misconduct, said his relationship with Kaczmarek evolved over the years, going from adversarial to one of mutual respect.
It was through various depositions with Kaczmarek that Luibrand said he became friendly with the former police chief. The turning point was the Sampson case, which Luibrand said Kaczmarek handled professionally, the opposite of how police conducted business with his previous clients.
“I wouldn’t call us friends at that time,” Luibrand said. “We were adversaries; we battled each other. Through that, though, a couple of things happened and one of them was I realized that he was fairly easy to talk to and I was able to talk to him a lot about things outside of what we were battling about.”
Luibrand said he stayed in contact with Kaczmarek after his retirement and would have friendly conversations on a wide range of topics, including baseball. Kaczmarek would also keep Luibrand updated on his health after being diagnosed with cancer and offer him guidance. Luibrand’s wife faced a similar diagnosis around the same time.
In recent years, Luibrand said Kaczmarek found faith and focused his attention on becoming a better family man, noting that he lost nearly two years together due to his prison sentence
“He tried to use his faith to become a better family person,” he said. “His dominant characteristic became family, family, family, and that’s what he did. Family and faith.”
Jurczynski, meanwhile, said he believes Kaczemarek will receive an outpouring of support at a memorial service scheduled to take place in the coming days, noting his family’s deep ties to the community.
As far as his relationship with Kaczemarek, Jurczynski said things eroded over the years but they remained cordial whenever they ran into each other.
In April the pair sat down for a lengthy breakfast, where Kaczemarek reflected on his past mistakes.
“What I admired, and I wasn’t totally expecting it, was that he was totally honest about his foolish mistakes that he made,” Jurczynski said. “He was genuine. He was totally genuine in saying I made some stupid foolish mistakes and I regret them.”
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.