Excelsior grad, NYS police officer shares memorable career moments

Born in Albany, and living in the Capital District of New York State for most of his life, Captain John H. Tibbitts, Jr. is a 2007 graduate of Excelsior College. For the past 30 years, he has worked for New York State Police. Today he works as a Zone 3 Commander in Troop B. Tibbitts sat down with Excelsior Life to discuss his career and lifelong learning memorable moments, including response to investigations, escapees, and World Trade Center attacks.

Excelsior Life: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your career?

Tibbitts: I graduated from Shaker High School in 1982. I received my associate’s degree in Criminal Justice from Hudson Valley Community College in 1984. After graduation, I transferred to SUNY Albany until spring of 1985 when I took the New York State Police exam. I left after two semesters because I’d been offered a position in the State Police Basic School as a Recruit Trooper and sworn in September of 1985.  Since that time I’ve taken various promotional exams and appointments until I accepted my most recent appointment to Captain/Zone Commander in Troop B, an area encompassing the Adirondack/High Peaks Region of New York State.

Excelsior Life: How did you learn about Excelsior College?

Tibbitts: I had been researching a return to college and I had heard about Excelsior when I was assigned to State Police Headquarters in Albany from a colleague.

Excelsior Life: I understand you promised your mother that you would
complete your degree someday. Why did you stop college?

Tibbitts: My parents were very supportive of the education paths of both my two sisters and myself.  When I accepted the appointment to the State Police Academy, we were discussing the pros and cons of accepting the appointment.  At the time, I had tried to track my course load towards pre-law with an idea of going to law school.

As a matter of fact, I had thought about only staying with the State Police for a few years before actually finishing my degree part-time and then going to law school.

My mother said at one point the only thing she hoped for was for me to finish my degree.  Life happens, children are born and that idea kind of was placed on the very back burner.  I think the extra added incentive was when my oldest son Ryan was getting ready to head off to college and I realized I wanted to get my degree before he did. And there was no way I’d wait until after my youngest son, Matt, started.

Excelsior Life: Can you tell us about your experience at Excelsior College?

Tibbitts: I had tried physically attending classes which wasn’t always possible with my work schedule.  I tried another online course and wasn’t satisfied with the level of assistance and attention I needed from the advisors while trying to figure out what courses I needed, how to pay for them, etc.  When I first contacted Excelsior, everyone I spoke with went out of their way to assist me with entering the world of academia again.  Calls were always returned promptly and every question I had was answered.

Excelsior Life: How did taking classes fit with your work schedule and
family life?

Tibbitts: I scheduled about 90 minutes a night to study, read, and/or post on the class discussions.  I soon realized that was more than adequate for my needs and was able to reduce and compress my study habits into smaller blocks 3 or 4 days a week.  It fit in well with my schedule AND didn’t frequently impact my home life

Excelsior Life: What was your favorite course and why?

Tibbitts: One of the last required courses was a sociology course and we had students from all age groups, many different locations and all socio-economic classes.  I’d have to say those were some of the most intense and impassioned discussions I’ve had in an academic session.  I learned a lot from the class.

Excelsior Life: What are some career highlights and memorable moments?

Tibbitts: The positions I’ve held in some of my assignments have had me working at some point in every county of New York State, many eastern and southeastern states and the provinces of Ontario and Quebec in Canada which isn’t afforded many of the personnel in our agency.  The experience of working with such a wide array of law enforcement and other public and private safety professionals has substantially enhanced the fashion in which I perform my duties today.

There’s been many incidents I’ve been involved in from high profile cases to significant emergency responses.  I was involved in some significant cases as a Trooper and Sergeant working Patrol in the Hudson Valley region of New York that really developed my investigative and management abilities that I continue to apply to this day.

I was, as were many of our members, significantly involved with the response and recovery to the World Trade Center attacks in 2001.  While we were all devastated by this criminal tragedy, we are also solid in our collective beliefs that we did all we could to assist our local, state and federal partners in helping the people of New York City in their recovery that continues to this day.

I was also sent to the Gulf Coast in Fall of 2005 as part of the New York State Police response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  Working in Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita as part of the NYSP’s deployment was a significant and intense experience assisting the people of New Orleans and the surrounding communities.  I was able to utilize some of what I learned there when Super Storm Irene hit the Adirondack High Peaks a few years back, sharing unified command duties with our other public safety partners both from local emergency services to the New York State Forest Rangers.

Excelsior Life: What are some of your more fascinating criminal and investigative cases?

Tibbitts: Some of the criminal and investigative cases I’ve been actively involved in run the gamut from multiple homicides to large scale drug smuggling operations, fatal fires, kidnappings and so forth.  Recently two cases stand out prominently and have involved considerable commitment by multiple agencies and personnel.  The first being an ongoing investigation into the disappearance of an 18 year old young man from the Tupper Lake area who vanished without a trace in March of 2012.  Colin Gillis was last seen walking on Route 3 in the early morning hours.  I, along with multiple other agencies and personnel, spent the following days and weeks managing one of the, if the not the, largest missing persons searches in State history.  Utilizing both professional and volunteer search teams we scoured hundreds if not thousands of acres searching for Colin.  It’s a case that remains open to this day and his missing poster hangs next to my desk to remind me every day that we have to do whatever we can to locate him.

Perhaps the most satisfying case I’ve been directly involved with was the recent escape and recapture of two very dangerous murderers from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York.  From the time I received the call early that June morning from my counterpart in Plattsburgh, we were hoping for a quick and safe outcome.  As the command staff of the Troop, our Major and my fellow officers and were highly motivated to achieve a fast and safe conclusion to this event.  As the days turned into weeks, we found ourselves managing an active ground search involving over a thousand local state and federal law enforcement officers from a variety of disciplines.  Thousands of leads were chased down as we not only actively searched for the escapees, but also attempted to reassure the communities who were tremendously supportive and cooperative.  In the end, some 22 days later, we had killed one escapee and captured a second without serious injury to any law enforcement officer or citizen of the community.  We as a unit are tremendously satisfied.

Excelsior Life: What advice would you give to other working adults reading this story, if they haven’t completed their degree?

Tibbitts: If you want it, it’s attainable.  It’s about continuous learning and knowledge which we should be pursuing as long as we can.