The magnitude of what Brian Staley was about to accomplish struck him as he pulled to the side of the road on 201st Street in St. Albans, Queens, on Wednesday. An African-American man who appeared to be down on his luck was collecting bottles, and Staley stopped to hand him his empty soda container.
“You look nice. Where are you going?” the man asked, noticing Staley’s police dress uniform.
“I’m getting promoted to police chief,” Staley, 62, responded.
At first, the man appeared to be shocked by the news that Staley, who is also African-American, would be receiving such a title. But as he processed the information, a big smile swept across his face.
Staley shared this story Monday with the roughly 200 people gathered at the Port Washington Fire Department to watch him being sworn in to the position of deputy chief of the Port Washington Police Department. At that moment, he became the first African-American in Port Washington’s history to earn the title.
“This is not just for me. A lot of people are celebrating this,” said Staley. “I’m very proud, but it’s actually a very humbling thing.”
For the past year, Staley, an Air Force veteran and a 31-year veteran of the Port Washington Police Department, has been serving as a lieutenant.
“He’s earned this promotion,” said acting Port Washington Police Chief Jim Salerno. “He’s an exceptional officer .?.?. and a very community-minded person.”
Staley is involved in several community organizations in Port Washington and throughout Nassau County. In conjunction with the Economic Opportunity Commission of Nassau County, he has worked on gang prevention, AIDS awareness, HIV prevention and voter education.
“He’s been very involved in the African-American and Hispanic communities here in Port Washington and for them to see this meant so much to him,” said his wife, Linda Staley, 62, of St. Albans.
As they watched their father make history, Staley’s three children — Ian, 37, Jamal, 41, and Lena, 20, all said they felt inspired.
“I couldn’t be prouder,” Lena Staley added. “He’s such a wonderful, and beautiful and intelligent man, and he makes everything around him just so beautiful.”
While he celebrated with his family and fellow officers, Staley did not want to spend much time discussing the discrimination lawsuit he filed against the Port Washington Police Department in the early 1990s. He said it was settled quickly out of court.
“Port Washington is an interesting community, not just the police district, in that it seems to correct itself,” he said. “If there are things that are wrong, eventually it’s corrected.”
According to Staley, Port Washington has had a number of female police officers and female members of the police commission that helps oversee the department.
“Port Washington has really been a maverick,” he said. “I don’t know whether it’s been by choice or accident.”
Staley hopes that his accomplishment inspires younger generations.
“This is well beyond my dreams,” he said. “I want them to dream of obtaining their aspirations .?.?. and even more than they ever dreamed of.”