The pressures and horrors of police work can harden a person. But in the 23 years Thomas Kemp spent in the Nassau County Police Department — including six as a detective in the Fourth Precinct — he never let the work get to him.
Although he is happily retired these days in Houston, Thomas Kemp’s stature with his colleagues, the grace he brought to the job and his sense of integrity are things that people still remember.
And in 2017, as police departments try to improve the people and communication skills among officers, Kemp’s style and manner of policing remains a valued trait and inspiration to others to enter law enforcement.
Kemp didn’t need to look far to see how his ability to stay professional and cool under pressure left a lasting impression. It’s why his daughter Michelle decided policing was what she wanted to do.
She joined the NYPD in 1991 and is currently working as an investigative sergeant with the Housing Police Bureau. It was a career decision modeled after her father’s example and one Michelle Kemp hasn’t regretted.
“My father was very honest and had a lot of integrity and he liked what he did,” she said in a recent interview.
For Thomas Kemp, 73, who retired in 1992, working as cop gave him a sense of fellowship, something he experienced while a U.S. Marine fighting in the Vietnam War in the 1960s before he went into policing in 1969.
Kemp, who is African-American, said race was not an issue for him when he joined the department, either in advancing in rank or in his interactions with the public.
“We may have been in the minority, so to speak, [but] we never had problems,” he said.
Kemp probably would have ended his career in uniform but his commander, Herbert Faust, decided to give him a boost and put him in for promotion to detective.
“It wasn’t a case of merit, he just put me in,” said Kemp of Faust’s actions.
Faust, who retired in 2005 as chief of detectives for the Nassau police department, remembered Kemp fondly.
“He was a solid guy and well liked by his peers and he had a lot of time on the job, and I thought it was time,” Faust said, recalling his decision to promote Kemp.
Kemp compared being a detective to “working in the bullpen at Yankee Stadium, you never know what you would get every day.”
The horrors and heartache of the job never hardened him. Over the two decades he spent in the department, Kemp certainly had his fill of tough cases.
The first homicide he worked as a detective involved a woman whose body was found in August 1988 in a motel in Oceanside. The killer hid the body inside the bed, under the mattress for about a week, Kemp remembered. The result was predictable. The body was discovered after motel guests complained of an odor. The break in the case was the fact that the suspect had checked into the room with the victim and was recognized by Hempstead cops, Kemp said.
One the most horrific cases Kemp had to work was the infamous wild spree in which suspects from Brooklyn shot, robbed, terrorized and sexually abused dozens of patrons of the Seacrest Diner in Old Westbury in May 1982.
Since the suspects were African-American, officials needed a number of faces of similar race to properly conduct lineups. Kemp said he stood in the lineups as a “filler” for about five hours as victims went about making identifications.
“I would say in my 23 years on the job, that was the worst,” Kemp said of the case.
Michelle Kemp, 48, said that her parents separated when she was young and she requested to live with her father. Kemp purchased a house in Hempstead and had someone look after Michelle while he was on the job.
“He worked long hours so I hardly ever saw him,” Michelle Kemp said.
Eventually, the family moved to Queens, where Michelle Kemp went to high school. Now a resident of Rockville Centre, she remains in close touch with her father by telephone about four or five times a week. She has two younger brothers who have gone on to careers outside of law enforcement.
“My father is very well liked and very well respected, even now,” she said. “I still keep in contact with people in Nassau County and there are a few still working who know him and speak about him.”
Michelle Kemp has even heard good things about her father when she least expected it. One day she stopped for gas at a service station in Rockville Centre. Her vanity license plate reads “MSKEMP2U” and it sparked the interest of a man who approached her as she filled her tank.
“He said ‘I used to work with a very nice gentleman and his last name was Kemp at the Nassau County PD,’ ” Michelle remembered with a smile. “I said, ‘Sir, that is my father!’ ”