Thoughts on 9/11 – a Q&A with Chief Peenstra

Chief Peenstra

Generations Bank was honored to share a Q&A with Stu Peenstra, Police Chief of the Seneca Falls Police Department:

Tell me about yourself – how did you get to be the SFPD Police Chief?

I grew up in a very small town in Onondaga County called Marietta.  I graduated from Marcellus High School and went on to college at SUNY Canton where I studied Criminal Justice and played Basketball. I then transferred to SUNY Potsdam where I met my wife, Kristin, and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology/Criminal Justice.

My wife, Kristin got a music teaching job at the Seneca Falls School District right after we both graduated in 1995.  She taught at Seneca Falls Middle school while I continued to pursue a job in law enforcement.  After college I was forced to go back to a construction job that I worked during summers and holidays throughout college, but all the while still trying to pursue my goal of being a police officer.

In 1997, I was fortunate enough to get sponsored at a Police Academy and was then hired part-time by the Skaneateles Police Department.  While working at the Skaneateles PD, I started
working part-time for the Park Police (summers) and was eventually hired part-time at the Seneca Falls PD in 1998.

During this time I worked three part-time police jobs while also substitute teaching at both Seneca Falls School District as well as Skaneateles School District.  Kristin and I then got married in April of 1999.  We purchased a “fixer upper” on Pine Street in Seneca Falls and started working on the house.

Shortly after this, I was fortunate enough to get hired full-time in Seneca Falls and was able to quit working all of my part time jobs.  In 2006, I was promoted to Sergeant.  In 2007 our son Jack was born, which changed our lives for the better forever.  In January of 2012, I was lucky enough to be promoted to Chief of a town I truly love.

With the 15th anniversary of 9/11 this year, can you tell me where you
were when you learned of the attacks?

It was my day off, however I was coming into work that morning to work a traffic detail.  The radio was on in my vehicle when I drove a couple minutes to work.  I remember the radio station saying something about a plane crashing into one of the twin towers in NYC.  I remember thinking that this could not be real and it had to be some sort of sick joke on the radio station.   As I walked into the Police Station, I saw the Chief and the day shift staff were gathered around the TV watching the tragedy unfold.  A few other police officers started showing up at the office not knowing what was going to happen next.  It was obvious to me that our nation was under attack.  Chief Capozzi had all of us go out on patrol to be visual in our community, not knowing if something like this could happen in our small town.  I remember thinking that it could be possible knowing that the Women’s Rights National Historical Park and National Women’s Hall of Fame were in our community.  I remember a vigil the Village of Seneca Falls had on the Ovid Street Bridge shortly after this occurred.  I remember hearing the cheers from people standing on the bridge as I drove my police cruiser through.  The cheers brought tears to my eyes and great pride to my heart.

What do you say to the community about being vigilant and keeping the
community safe?

September 11, 2001 was a day that forever changed lives for everyone.  Law Enforcement relies heavily on people in the community reporting suspicious activity.   “If You See Something, Say Something” is a national campaign that raises public awareness of the indicators of terrorism and terrorism-related crime, as well as the importance of reporting suspicious activity to state and local law enforcement.  Law Enforcement needs the help from everyone to keep our nation safe and to help prevent the next tragic event.  I cannot say enough about the importance of reporting suspicious behavior.  Complacency will cause us another attack.  Everyone must remain vigilant.

Any thoughts on how your work has changed since 9/11?

The horrific events of 9/11 created a tremendous change for the public safety community.  One major change has been the creation of regional intelligence fusion centers, which collect information from all available sources, vet it, analyze it in order to identify trends, patterns and
threats that may indicate planned or ongoing criminal or terrorist activity, and share it among all concerned parties.
What many people might not know is more police officers have now died as a result of illnesses blamed on the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks than the number of cops killed during the actual event as the tragedy unfolded 15 years ago.

What is something people don’t know about you?

I love snowmobiling and spending time with my family.  I love the Adirondacks. If I did not make it as a Police Officer I wanted to become a farmer.  I have a high respect for people that work hard (physically) every day.  As a young boy I would ride my bike up the road to a few farms and help.  It was a great time in my life.