Quogue Police Sergeant Thomas Mullen has seen a lot during his 37-year tenure with the village department.He responded to TWA Flight 800, which exploded and crashed off the East Moriches coast 20 years ago this past Sunday, killing all 230 people aboard.
He traveled to Ground Zero in downtown Manhattan in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
And he’s responded to many fatal accidents and disturbance calls during his law enforcement career.
“I got to see a lot of things the average person doesn’t get to see,” Sgt. Mullen said as he sat in his office last Thursday, July 14—exactly one week before he would walk out of the police station for the last time.
The longtime Quogue Police Department presence recently announced his retirement plans, and his last day will be today, Thursday, July 21. His coworkers intend to honor him when he completes his final shift at 3:45 p.m.
While recalling events from his nearly four-decade-long tenure with the Village Police, Sgt. Mullen said the things that stand out the most are related to how things have changed since he was hired in March 1979. The 58-year-old explained that new officers received minimal training before being handed a service revolver, the village’s patrol cars were already outdated upon his arrival, officers lacked official uniforms and the police station itself was run-down.
At the time of his hiring, Sgt. Mullen said the department had between eight and 10 officers, and was led by Lieutenant Douglas Edwards as there was no official chief in charge of outfit in the late 1970s. Today, the department boasts 18 officers and is led by Chief Robert Coughlan.
Looking back on his first years as an officer, Sgt. Mullen said he could not believe how little training he had before his first day on the village beat. He graduated from the Suffolk County Police Academy in 1980, two decades after its founding, though, back then, graduates did not have to clock almost 1,200 hours of training before stepping foot in the field. Today, officers must complete the academy before they’re allowed to start their job.
He noted that as he and his fellow officers received more training, enforcement picked up and, as a result, the village became a safer place. “It’s been several years since there was a fatal accident in the village,” Sgt. Mullen said.
The longtime Quogue resident added that he was pleased with this particular turn of events, noting that one of the most difficult parts of police work is having to share heartbreaking news with the family members of accident victims. “You always see people at their worst,” Sgt. Mullen said of that part of the job. “That can be a struggle, especially when you know them in the community.”
Though he primarily patrolled Quogue, Sgt. Mullen has pitched in and traveled to other areas during his career. He said he will never forget the time he was sent to downtown Manhattan to assist in the aftermath of 9/11. He said he visited Ground Zero on five different occasions, including immediately after the collapse of the Twin Towers, relieving officers who were still searching for survivors in the rubble.
He was also called upon to help guard the United Nations, as well as the firehouses and gas stations nearest to the downed towers. It was during one of these patrols that he spotted the charred and smashed Fire Department of New York trucks being hauled away from the site. In total, 343 FDNY members perished when the towers collapsed.
Watching firefighters and police officers from all over the country working together in the search for survivors is a memory that he will never forget. “Just being there, standing there in New York City, I got more ‘thank yous’ than I ever got in my life,” recalled Sgt. Mullen, who also volunteers with the Quogue Fire Department.
Closer to home, Sgt. Mullen was among the officers to respond to the TWA Flight 800 crash on the evening of July 17, 1996, noting that he worked security at the base of operations: the U.S. Coast Guard facility in East Moriches. To this day, Sgt. Mullen says he is still haunted by the memory of seeing the bodies of victims in the station, which served as a makeshift morgue immediately after the crash. “I accidentally walked into the morgue looking for the bathroom,” he said.
Sgt. Mullen wore several hats with the Quogue Police, and was recently certified as a hostage negotiator by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He spent seven years an officer before being promoted to detective in 1986. He was named sergeant in 1999, though he continued to work in he detective’s office. In 2004, Sgt. Mullen returned to the field conducting police work, noting that he always enjoyed his time as a member of the East End Drug Task Force or when he was assigned to the Quogue Village Police boat.
Chief Coughlan, who has led the village department for the past 16 years and worked alongside Sgt. Mullen for his entire career, said he will miss his longtime coworker.
“I worked with him right from the beginning,” Chief Coughlan said. “It was a great experience; he was an asset to the department.”
Sgt. Mullen notes that while he will miss the job, he is looking forward to spending more time with his wife, Melissa, a retired AT&T executive, and their family, which includes their 27-year-old son, David of Westhampton Beach, and 25-year-old daughter, Katherine of Blue Point. He added that he has plans to travel around the country, and will be spending more time on his 24-foot Pursuit fishing boat.
While he is looking forward to retirement, Sgt. Mullen admits that he will miss his job.
“I’m going miss coming here every day,” Sgt. Mullen said. “It’s nice looking back at all of these different things … A lot of the young guys working here weren’t even born when I started. It’s becoming a young man’s job.”