Former Scranton police chief retires after 30-year career
Mar. 17—SCRANTON — Len Namiotka sips black coffee with his back to the wall so he keeps Commonwealth Coffee House's front doors in view.
Watchfulness is baked into his being, thanks to three decades of police work that concluded Friday. Retirement is not going to change that. As he reflected on 30 years of service, the one-time police chief could not help but notice a car nearly turn the wrong way onto Penn Avenue.
"It's amazing how fast it went," Namiotka, 55, said of his career. "I still remember showing up at roll call, brand new ... quiet as can be because you didn't know anybody, just waiting for somebody to tell you what to do."
"Thirty years," he continued. "I'm telling the stories now like the old guys did then. You know, like, uh-oh, when did I become that old guy?"
A longtime administrative lieutenant, Namiotka was appointed interim police chief after former Chief Carl Graziano retired in September 2020.
His service was brief. Mayor Paige Gebhardt Cognetti announced in January 2022 she would replace him with former Sgt. Thomas Carroll, a retired and decorated Marine and former commander of the Special Operations Group, a SWAT team unit.
Namiotka said Cognetti "decided to go in a new direction" and declined to discuss their conversation. He said he would have liked to have retired as chief, but he threw his support behind her vision for the department. He thanked Cognetti for the opportunity to serve and wished Carroll success.
Carroll called him a "dedicated professional." Cognetti said Namiotka served a "distinguished career."
"Len took leadership roles in many capacities within the department including as a member of the Special Operations Group, Superintendent of Police and took a very active role in transforming the department's Crime Prevention Program," Cognetti said in a message, adding, "I congratulate and wish Len well upon his retirement."
Moved back to lieutenant, Namiotka focused on developing a new program in the department, the Crisis Co-Responder Team program, which allows officers responding to mental health-related calls to bring in crisis workers from the Scranton Counseling Center, provided the scene is safe.
The initiative launched in August. He was happy to have been a part of its inception.
"It's not all about just arresting people," Namiotka said. "It's not just that patrol car driving around waiting for somebody to put handcuffs on."
Badge number 535
Namiotka, badge number 535, worked as a patrolman through the 1990s.
In 1999, as a member of the department's tactical team, he helped arrest a man who made his way to South Scranton after gunning down a Holyoke, Massachusetts, police officer, Patrolman John A. DiNapoli. Invited to Holyoke after the arrest, he said the memory is a shining moment of his career.
"It's something that touches you inside that is heartfelt and genuine appreciation from the community," Namiotka said.
For much of his career, from 2004 to 2020, he held a lieutenant's rank. His responsibilities included training and supervision, records management and community outreach, including serving as a liaison for neighborhood watch groups, senior centers and schools.
Building and maintaining a relationship with the community was at the core of the job, he said. That mission had him educate University of Scranton students about road safety, install car seats and wrestle former WNEP-TV personality Ryan Leckey in a sumo suit.
"He's going to say he won," Namitoka said.
Such things show police officers are approachable, he said.
"You want to be a mentor to the kids out there," Namiotka said. "You don't want them run away from you. You don't want them to hide from you. If something ever happened bad, who do you want them to run to? The good guys."
Namiotka courted a controversy, as well, for something he readily admits as a mistake.
In 2009, his firearm accidentally went off while he showed it to the owner of Brunetti's Shur-Save Super Market. An internal investigation cleared him, though the bullet left a reminder: a thin scar on his palm a few centimeters across. "I didn't have my mind on what I was doing," he said.
"One of my sergeants told me years and years ago ... no matter what happens, never, ever lie," Namiotka said. "Because if you lie, we can't help you."
Once named interim chief, he pursued training for his officers but he needed to contend with challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and the actions of errant employees.
In November 2020 — mere months after nationwide riots and protests over the police killing of George Floyd — a trove of racist text messages exchanged between two former police officers came to light. Namiotka, who had not yet been formally appointed to the police chief's role, found himself responsible for addressing it.
Police should be held to a higher standard, he said, but not all officers are like that.
"We will not tolerate any comments, anything derogatory, against any individual," he said at a news conference alongside Cognetti at the time.
On Friday, nearly 30 years to the day since he first started, Namiotka left department headquarters as an officer for the last time. The frosting on a cake there read: "Congratulations on your retirement Lieutenant. You'll be missed.
Now retired with a pension, he plans to start work next month as a part-time Lackawanna County sheriff's deputy. His salary was $87,089 as of January.
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