Work hard. Do the right thing. And everything will fall into place.
That was Brian Kilcullen’s plan for adulthood, and on Monday the 48-year-old who grew up in Schenectady had proof it worked. After 19 years in the Schenectady Police Department, he was promoted to chief.
It wasn’t always easy — after college, he hoped to get into the CIA, but didn’t.
Then he had to wait three years after passing a police test before being hired by the Schenectady department.
There, he began to worry that working hard wouldn’t be enough.
“Everything was on the seniority system,” he said. “We were an older department and it felt I’d never get the assignment I really wanted.”
The only way to bypass the older officers was to beat them in rank. He studied for promotional tests, kept his nose clean, and got promoted again and again.
So working hard worked. But doing the right thing isn’t as easy.
In 2010, Kilcullen faced his own integrity test: He discovered his wife was doing illegal drugs.
Should he hurt her — his own wife — by turning her in?
He passed the test. When Diane Kilcullen could not beat the addiction, he reported her to police.
She is now doing well, he said, after going through court-mandated rehab.
Schenectady’s new chief grew up in Schenectady with six siblings, after moving as a young boy from Watervliet. He and all his siblings graduated from Schenectady schools and went on to get college degrees. Kilcullen graduated from Siena College, with bachelor’s degree in marketing and management, and went on to get a master’s in public administration from Marist College.
His parents still live in his childhood home, and his new badge comes with a key to his old bedroom.
Kilcullen moved back home — on workdays only — to earn his promotion. Mayor Gary McCarthy refused to hire a chief who didn’t live in Schenectady, but Kilcullen didn’t want to move his daughter from her school in Milton, Saratoga County.
They compromised: Kilcullen moved to his childhood home, but he’ll go back to Milton on weekends.
His daughter, Delaney, is 11. He said it would be easier to relocate if she was 18.
“She’s in certain programs that aren’t available locally,” he said. “I have to do what’s best for my family.”
His daughter added that she’s glad she won’t have to move.
“I’m really happy because I don’t want to lose some of my friends,” she said. “I like it here, too, but I miss my friends.”
His wife added that she’ll visit him on occasion.
“I will miss him,” she said. “I’ll go there, have dinner. See him on weekends.”
Kilcullen’s parents are enthusiastic. Their home, which once housed seven children, is now “empty,” they said.
“We’re all alone,” Charles Kilcullen said, adding that he doesn’t recall explicitly telling his son how to live a good life.
But his son says the message was heard loud and clear in everything from career advice to punishment when he made a mistake.
“What they instilled in me was work hard, do the right thing and everything will fall into place,” he said.
His father said he simply told his son that whatever career he chose, he should make sure he did it well.
Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said Kilcullen’s lifelong connection to Schenectady would make him an ideal chief.
“He knows the city; he knows the history; he knows the challenges,” Bennett said.
Kilcullen said he plans to reduce the most violent crimes in the city by 10 percent this year, mostly through increased use of crime mapping.
“It really pinpoints where we need to be and when we need to be there,” he said.
The department has also started to use a state program called Cease Fire, in which the police chief and other law enforcement officials meet with violent criminals who have just been released on parole.
Kilcullen tells them: “We’ve had enough. The community’s had enough. It’s got to stop.”
Other parolees offer a similar message, he said, but the real eye-opener comes from representatives of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
They warn parolees that they can’t touch a gun — or even a non-working piece of a gun.
“A bullet’s as good as a gun,” Kilcullen said. “You see jaws drop.”
The new chief also plans to find other ways to reduce crime, saying police can’t “arrest our way out” of some problems.
Officers will be trained to spot code violations so they can make referrals in tough cases — like repeated noise complaints — where they can’t find enough evidence to make an arrest.
“For example, if you walk past a smoke detector, press the button. Does it work? If it doesn’t, you’re in violation,” Kilcullen said. “If we can’t make an arrest, let’s at least make the place safe.”
He also wants to use better environmental design to make parks and other spaces safer. In response to many calls for trouble at Liberty Park, he asked city staff to cut back the bushes in the densely vegetated park. When vagrants no longer had a place to hide, the calls dropped.
In other issues facing the department, Kilcullen plans to attack the backlog of about 1,000 arrest warrants that have not been served, while trying to reduce some of the incoming warrants.
He said he’s talking with judges about whether they could suspend a driver’s license rather than issuing an arrest warrant when the driver doesn’t show up in traffic court.
He’s also going to use a collections agency to collect some of the $2.3 million in unpaid traffic tickets. The agency hopes to collect about 25 percent of the recent tickets, getting the city $250,000 to $350,000 in revenue after the agency takes its cut.
“We’re going to do some things differently,” Kilcullen said.