Willy Olmeda Is Retired (Sort Of) And Loving It
At just 42 years old, Willy, or Johnny as he was called as a child and is now affectionately known to his family and extended family here in Rockaway, is recently retired from the New York City Police Department, having reached the rank of Detective Specialist. Now he's spending more time with his wife and children, and grandchild, managing his real estate investments and working as a Special Assistant for State Senate Democratic Leader Malcolm Smith.
"I was ecstatic when I was asked to join his staff," Olmeda said of his new boss. "I have a lot of respect and admiration for Mal Smith. He's in [politics] for the right reasons."
The Wave had the opportunity to sit down with Olmeda at the Belle Harbor Steak House on January 23. Full disclosure: He paid for my pork chop and Sprite. A usual no-no for reporters, but he insisted and reminded me that he's still licensed to carry a weapon. It wasn't so much the suggestion of the gun that made me go along with his plan - I was more or less won over by the devilish chuckle he let out after suggesting he was armed. A laugh that I'm sure has persuaded others, too.
Over a Romanian steak served medium-rare and a glass or two of red wine, he discussed his family, his 20-year career with the NYPD, the almost unbelievable luck he's had in Far Rockaway, as well as the bright road ahead.
It wasn't exactly the familiar Detective Olmeda who arrived at the office in a brand new H3 SUV. There was no powder blue windbreaker with the words "Community Affairs" across the back. This new guy was looking sharp in jeans, loafers and a dark corduroy sport coat.
In fact, we sat down to lunch shortly after Olmeda picked up his new carry permit in Suffolk County - that's where he and his wife, Sandra, live with their family. Willy has three children: Charise Marie, 23, Corrine Sandra, 7, and Joshua Creglin, 10. Charise Marie has a 2-year-old son, Jason, the Olmedas' first grandchild.
"My kids are my life," Olmeda told me. "And I'm cherishing every minute of this half-time in life," he said before pausing to think for a moment. "My kids are so special to me."
He'd also just returned from a vacation that brought him to Florida, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. "It's a beautiful thing," he said. "It's a relief; I feel decompressed."
Olmeda joined the NYPD in 1986 and was assigned to the 101 Precinct in Far Rockaway the next year. He never left.
"I just sort of quickly became attached," he recalled. "It wasn't just Officer Olmeda, it was Willy," he said of his interaction with the community, which was usually on a first name basis.
But Rockaway, and especially Far Rockaway, was no walk in the park for police in those days. There was a lot of Crack and guns on the streets, he recalled. From 1993 to 1996 he worked as a youth officer and was able to use his strong family foundation - his parents Carmen and Creglin Olmeda just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary - to help steer kids "out of a bad direction."
In 1996, Willy was approached by Pauline Rhodd-Cummings, who was president of the Deerfield Area Civic Association (she later became an assembly member before succumbing to cancer in 1998) and other community activists Zandra Meyers and Hazeron Mohammad. Olmeda chuckled as he recalled how they basically told him about an opportunity in the precinct's Community Affairs Unit and basically assigned him to it themselves.
Olmeda said he immediately set out to become "the face of the precinct," and "a conduit for community concern into the precinct." His laid back demeanor, warm smile, size and everyman appearance made him well-suited for the job.
Then in 1998, Olmeda was involved in a scenario that makes a solid case for the existence of the Community Affairs Unit. The incident touched off in the Beach 40's when two uniformed officers were fired upon. The suspect got away, but the police wanted him - bad.
"When you shoot on cops, everyone in the world is there," he said thinking back on the response. "Hundreds of cops, hundreds of cops."
The bad guy, as cops would describe him, didn't get far - he was still in Far Rock hiding out. He feared for his life, and called a community leader for help in turning himself in. The community leader called Olmeda and they worked out the details of a surrender. Olmeda went to speak to his commanding officer, Inspector Michael Morley.
"I got the perp, I got the perp," Olmeda excitedly told his boss at a command post. "I remember Mike Morley saying, just in astonishment looking at me, 'What do you mean you got the perp?'"
Within hours, Olmeda and Morley had placed the suspect under arrest - without any more gunfire. Olmeda received a promotion to detective one year later. That story was covered in The Wave, as was another more recent collar in which Olmeda helped take down a man with a loaded gun.
That one begins at a massive funeral in Far Rockaway for a well-known Edgemere man who was gunned down. With hundreds of mourners going to the church on Mott Avenue, the police knew they had a public safety issue on their hands. Dressed in that powder blue Community Affairs windbreaker, Olmeda was one of the officers assigned to patrol the event. He was simply standing around when he noticed something that took him by surprise: A mourner pulled out what looked like a handgun so he could pose with it in a photo with others. Unsure if he had actually seen a gun, and with lots of bystanders in the area, Olmeda paused for a moment.
The man did it again - pulling out the gun and posing with it as someone snapped pictures.
Then, a friend of the man with the gun told him Olmeda had seen him, and the guy started a "nervous trot" away from the scene. Olmeda said his first instinct was to pounce on the guy and take the gun away, but there were so many people around - what if he wound up exchanging gunfire with the man? "That would have been a disaster," Olmeda said.
So, Olmeda kept an eye on the man, took a few steps, and found himself chest to chest with Deputy Inspector Walter Salowski, the commanding officer of the precinct at that time.
"He sees the expression on my face and he says, 'Willy, what is it? What is it," and Olmeda lays out the situation. Together they decided to keep an eye on the suspect and hold off on making an arrest. A moment later, the man started heading for an unpopulated area away from the funeral crowds, and that's when Olmeda, Salowski and Lieutenant Gary Messina made their move.
"Walter says, 'now,' and all of a sudden the three of us, from different directions, tackle him - a blitz - and handcuff him," Olmeda recalled. "Willy' where's the gun?" Salowski asked.
It was concealed right where Olmeda had seen the man tuck it away.
Contacted by The Wave this week, Salowski had this to say of the arrest: "That was great. Willy was right there, and we just waited until strategically and tactically it was correct."
Salowski said Olmeda was his "right hand man" during his tenure as commanding officer. "We both got along with the community well," said Salowski. "We were friends and Willy was a friend to the community. He was right on the money."
Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska echoed Salowski's comments about Olmeda's contacts and relationship with community members. "He knew the community well and had lots of contacts in the neighborhoods. He'll be missed," Gaska said. "Willy was my go-to guy for years."
Willy is now one of Senator Smith's go-to guys, which he says was an important part of his personal NYPD retirement agreement: He wants to remain in contact with the Rockaways (although his wife is happier that his cell phone bill is less than the $300-a-month it was when Olmeda was constantly in touch). "I love this place, I've seen it grow," he explained.
And as our lunch started to wind down and Willy finished his glass of wine, he shared his "career highlight": He met his wife of 17 years wile on patrol here.
"The job has been good to you," this reporter said as the waiter cleared our table.
"God bless Far Rockaway," Olmeda responded.