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Jack Lawliss Loved His Law Law Enforcement Career

Jack Lawliss 1951 the sailor

U. S. Navy Seabee John Lawliss 1951-55

Jack Lawliss 1957 in Massena

NYS Trooper John Lawliss – 1957

Jack Lawliss Retirement Photo

Troop B Commander John Lawliss – 1983-1987

Jack house

Jack Lawliss at his Peru home – January 20, 2015


By John T. Ryan

Longtime Peru resident John “Jack” Lawliss feels and looks good these days. And he’s relaxing! That’s a relief to many people who were thinking of and praying for Jack as he battled tongue cancer. Last spring his cancer treatments forced him to resign from his Peru Town Justice position. Jack explained, “I just couldn’t handle the job. I had to take radiation. Rather than just sit and draw my pay I resigned.”

Jack Lawliss has earned the right to relax. He’s been hard at work since joining the U.S. Navy in 1951. When he returned home in 1955, he worked construction for a few months at the new Plattsburgh Air Force Base. In October 1955 he began a career that he loved as a member of the New York State Police.

Over the next 33 years Jack Lawliss rose to become Troop B Commander responsible for leading 260 sworn officers and 40 support personnel in enforcing the laws in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, St. Lawrence and Hamilton Counties. After retiring in 1989, he operated a Plattsburgh investigative agency for ten years before becoming Clinton County Sheriff in 1999. He became a Peru Town Justice in 2004.

On January 20th, The Peru Gazette interviewed Jack Lawliss with a goal of learning more about the man and his distinguished law enforcement career.

You served in the New York State Police, as Clinton County Sheriff and as Peru Town Justice. Which job did you enjoy most? “My first love was the State Police. I grew up in it. It was like family to me. I knew what I was doing there. It takes a while to learn the job of sheriff. As a judge it takes a long time to learn the job. You’re always learning something, laws change every year and you have to be up to date on the laws and the recent court decisions.”

What personal qualities do you believe are necessary for success in law enforcement? “You have to be dedicated. You have to persevere in your work; you have to work hard and you have to put the job first. My wife used to get quite annoyed with the long hours I had to work.” Jack recalled when he was in the Bureau of Investigation (BCI) in Plattsburgh. “I was in Plattsburgh for four years. You had to work all the time. You had daytime duty, stakeouts at night. I loved it! You have to enjoy your work to be successful.”

Who had the most influence on your career? “John Snell (Plattsburgh attorney Jack Snell’s father). He was a BCI Sergeant in Port Henry who was known as ‘Mr. State Policeman of Essex County.’ He took me under his wing and I tried to emulate him. He was a great mentor and taught me the ropes.”

Why were you considered to be a good leader? “When I was appointed Troop Commander I had 27 years of service and worked in every rank in the BCI and uniformed force so I was very familiar with all the state police policies and procedures. My main concern was to have the folks in my command do a good job.”

What was your major challenge when you were a state trooper? “In all three positions I was concerned about making the right decision. As a state trooper it was sometimes a life or death decision and you didn’t want to make a wrong decision knowing the impact that it would have.”

Why do you think the NYS Police are so respected? “They’re always well-disciplined and supervised. They have continuing education with in-service training and various law enforcement seminars.”

When you think about your police career what cases come first to mind? “The Robert Garrow manhunt. Garrow was loose with a rifle in the Adirondacks and had murdered three college students. I was sent by Headquarters with my assigned detail to assist in the manhunt, as I was very familiar with the area. I had worked in Port Henry as a trooper for six years and I had many contacts in that area. Garrow was spotted in Witherbee and had left a stolen car in that area. I obtained information that he was hiding in the woods on the Silver Hill Road behind Wasson St. in Witherbee. I was not in charge of the detail, but I convinced the person in charge of where he was and we reassigned a number of troopers from roadblocks and sent them in with the dogs in the Silver Hill area. We shot him in that area on August 9, 1973. I received a Superintendent’s Commendation for my part in the nine-day manhunt.”

Jack also recalled leading a raid at Akwesasne near Massena. The troopers had been ordered to seize a large number of slot machines. Governor Mario Cuomo was very concerned and did not want a violent confrontation. Jack explained, “On December 16, 1987 I took over 200 troopers onto the St. Regis Reservation at 5 in the morning. It was snowing. My God was it snowing. One man we encountered was distraught and had an AK-47. I went up to talk to him and asked him his name. He said ‘Burns.’ I continued talking to him and the next thing you know I had his gun.” When the raid was over the troopers loaded the 293 slot machines and 30 other gambling devices on seven trucks and left without an injury to anyone. Governor Cuomo called the Superintendent and told him to let me know that he was thankful and that we had done a good job.” Jack received another Superintendent’s Commendation for his leadership role in this raid.

What surprised you most when you became Clinton County Sheriff? “The strict regulations the Commissioner of Corrections had on the operation of jails. It even got to the point where we had to send the inmate meal menu to Albany for approval to ensure that inmates were properly nourished. Also, the amount of money it costs for medical/drug treatment for inmates.”

What was the most challenging part of being a town justice? “There are a lot of defendants’ rights, hearings, motions, dealing with the district attorney’s office, dealing with the county and family court judges, the probation office, sheriff’s office and Office of Court Administration. You have to attend justice school and be certified every year. Today every court session is recorded. There’s a lot to it.”

What is the biggest challenge facing the criminal justice system today? “The proliferation of drugs. An awful lot of crimes are committed to enable young people to get drugs: burglaries, larcenies, forgeries and as a result of being drugged up they are involved in serious car accidents, assaults, domestic violence, etc.”

What advice would you give anyone starting work in today’s world? “Take an interest in your job. Don’t be afraid to take that extra step to get it done right. Your supervisors will notice that. Have a good work ethic, be punctual and treat everyone with respect.”

Who had the most influence on your personal life? “My mother. She was very honest, very religious, a very hard worker and very family-oriented.

What is the best thing about living in Peru? “The people! We have great people here. We have a lot of conveniences. I live a mile from the school, the church, the drugstore, the hardware store, the garage, the supermarket, the town hall and three restaurants. It’s a beautiful area geographically. I love it here.”

Jack Lawliss concluded, “My life has been very rewarding in both my family and occupation. I’ve been blessed with good health. I have four successful children and nineteen grandchildren and I’ve been blessed with the ability to earn a good living.” Jack married Peru resident Gail Prevost in 1958. The couple’s four children Tim, Anne, Michael and Brenda all reside in the Town of Peru.


Comment from Frederick Hoffman
Time January 26, 2015 at 8:53 am

Jack Lawliss served with distinction. He is one of a select few of elected officials I place at the top of my integrity list. Hopefully others will follow his example. Best wishes in retirement.

Comment from Mark Becker
Time January 26, 2015 at 6:14 pm

John Lawliss is a wonderful man, a stand up citizen who I am proud to call my Uncle. Thank you for all your service Sir, and enjoy your retirement, you certainly have earned it!

Comment from Megan Spellman
Time January 26, 2015 at 6:43 pm

Happy Birthday Uncle John! Wow… This is a great article! Thank you for all that you have done. You are a great man….irreplaceable!

Comment from Gary L. DeCelle
Time January 26, 2015 at 8:15 pm

Very good article on Jack Lawliss. He’s a great man who dedicated his life to Law Enforcement in one form or another. He is a great example of a true Law Enforcement Officer.

Comment from Lisa altamura
Time January 26, 2015 at 8:21 pm

Uncle John you have always been a loved , respected and admired member of our family. Your career in law enforcement continues to bring great pride to all of those who love you. I knew you would Triumph over this cancer!! Enjoy retirement ! Grama was an amazing Mother and all the things you admire her most for are all the qualities she past on to all her children . Our love and best wishes to you always, Lisa

Comment from Patricia (Lawliss) Snow)
Time January 26, 2015 at 9:09 pm

Our parents are surely smiling with great pride for all your admirable accomplishment in law enforcement. I am very proud to call you my brother and exceptionally proud of the example you have set by your honesty,integrity and leadership. We love you , pat and Ira

Comment from Paul Richter
Time January 26, 2015 at 10:50 pm

Great pics of Jack. Jack was one of the first troopers I met when I was assigned to SP Port Henry. He was an excellent “Trooper” role model for me and other young recruits.

Comment from bill Ashley
Time January 26, 2015 at 11:48 pm

Good man. He married Gail Prevost her folks lived next door to mine on North Main Street in Peru she was my babysitter my Dad Victor Ashley always said Jack was a good man.

Comment from Richard Babcock
Time January 27, 2015 at 12:13 am

I had the good fortune to work for Jack as a trooper and BCI investigator and after retirement, as an investigator in his Plattsburgh agency. Jack was a great supervisor and is a good friend. It was a pleasure for me to have been able to work for and to be associated with this fine man.

Comment from Ben Folley
Time January 27, 2015 at 2:30 am

happy birthday, grandpa! I see where I got my good looks from

Comment from Dale Robar
Time January 27, 2015 at 9:20 am

I served under Major Lawliss. At one point in my career he transferred me to another station against my wishes. I didn’t hold that against him he was only doing what he thought was best and guess what it was for the best ! I really enjoyed my new station and was all the better for it. He was a fair man to work for and I am thankful for his service. God works all things out for good to those who love Jesus and are the called according to His purpose. May God richly bless your retirement Major and if I don’t get to see you down here I want to see you in heaven. John 3:16

Comment from Gene Brady
Time January 27, 2015 at 1:08 pm

Jack: Proud to have known you and worked with you and all the great “B” troops in my time in the north country. My very best of wishes to you and your family.

Comment from Leo Connick
Time January 27, 2015 at 1:49 pm

PIG in law enforcement terms, stands for Pride Integrity and Guts. Jack Lawless, who I have known for 50 years is an outstanding example of law enforcement in the north country. I wish him the best in whatever he wishes to do. Just enjoy life, Jack.

Comment from Ron Nolan
Time January 27, 2015 at 1:49 pm

I knew the Major when I was a Trooper stationed in Plattsburg and he was an Investigator. Then I had the oportunity to work for him as an Investigator on the Organized Crime Task Force and he was my Lieutenant. He is all about what the New York State Police is. I was honored to serve under him and to know him,

Comment from David Blades
Time January 28, 2015 at 9:49 am

Jack Lawliss, is the epitome of the Gray Uniform that signifies the trust and fidelity of the individual wearing it. There is no doubt in my mind, the image that Jack Lawliss projected both as a member of the New York State Police and as a Family Man was of the highest caliber. As a subordinate for many years I appreciated his fair, no non-sense approach to support the mission and goals of the State Police. Thank you Major for your support.

Comment from Donna Quero
Time January 30, 2015 at 2:31 pm

What an exceptional article for an exceptional man! 🙂

Comment from Karen and Dale Jennette
Time April 6, 2017 at 9:53 am

Truly one of the most kind and driven people I have ever known. ( Prejudiced?) ?

Comment from Linda Ashley Nibert
Time June 5, 2017 at 4:56 pm

You haven’t changed a bit.All the Ashleys are are in the south.We have 3 kids 6 grand children and 1 great grand children.I know you have many more.Hope all is well Linda Nibert

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