Detective Thomas McHale
Port Authority Police Department of New York & New Jersey
Washington, DC—The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) has announced the selection of Detective Thomas McHale of the New York and New Jersey Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) as its Officer of the Month for September 2008.
“When lives are at stake, America’s first responders do not hesitate to rush directly into harm’s way. We do our jobs, searching for, rescuing, and aiding victims regardless of what unseen dangers and health hazards await.” Such was the testimony of 22-year veteran Detective Tom McHale of the New York and New Jersey Port Authority Police Department before a Congressional Subcommittee. Few in law enforcement history can match the bravery and determination of Detective McHale whose specialties include solving homicides and fighting terrorism both at home and abroad.
Just seven years after joining the Port Authority Police Department, Tom McHale had his first encounter with terrorism on February 26, 1993, when he was critically injured in the first bombing of the World Trade Center. His heroic efforts during the event, and his investigations afterward, gained him the World Trade Center Individual Acts of Valor Medal and within two years he was assigned to the FBI’s elite Joint Terrorism Task Force. So respected would he become within the law enforcement community, that in May 2001, he was also co-assigned to the NYPD Major Case Squad specializing in cold case homicides of fallen police officers.
Three weeks later, NYPD Detectives were investigating an allegation of the sexual molestation of a twelve-year-old. Although the detectives had found an unregistered handgun in the suspect’s apartment, he was extremely cooperative during the interview, had been steadily employed for the past 18 years and on the surface, seemed the model citizen. But, the detectives were sure that something was amiss. Why would this gentleman begin rattling off names of former members of the Black Liberation Army (BLA), an ultra-violent splinter group connected to the Black Panthers? Having never heard of the BLA, the detectives did not know that during the early 1970s this home-grown terrorist organization had been responsible for killing and wounding more than two dozen police officers, including Atlanta Police Officer James Richard Greene. Officer Greene had been shot and killed execution style on November 3, 1971. According to Atlanta police, the two gunmen wanted to ingratiate themselves to leaders of the BLA by killing a cop.
It was suggested that the young detectives connect with Detective Tom McHale who had previous experience working on BLA cases. Detective McHale contacted the Atlanta Police Department and the FBI field office and opened a case that had sat cold for thirty years. The team interviewed multiple eyewitnesses and eventually found someone who was able to identify one of the murderers of Officer Greene from a photograph. Few were surprised that the murder suspect was the same person held in the New York molestation case. Despite changing his name and starting a new life, thirty years later the BLA member was extradited to Georgia and was convicted of Officer Greene’s murder.
Nine months later, on September 11, 2001, Detective McHale responded to the World Trade Center along with fellow members of the Major Case Squad. While his rescuing efforts were underway, Detective McHale and his team narrowly escaped when the second tower collapsed. He never left the site that day and for the next ten days he was on full-time assignment at Ground Zero as part of the Port Authority Rescue and Recovery Team. Even after he was ordered to return to work with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, Tom McHale returned to the World Trade Center site each evening. As a member of the Ironworkers Union Local 45, Tom McHale volunteered a full shift to assist his fellow ironworkers in their recovery and clean-up efforts. He spent countless hours cutting through steel and recovering remains. He maintained this grueling schedule until the end of January 2002.
In January 2002, Detective McHale and the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force were sent overseas to continue the search for Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda network. In roughly two months, Detective McHale and his team accomplished miracles. He was instrumental in locating several Al-Qaeda safe houses, identified a possible suicide bomber, and responded to a bombing at a church that took the lives of several people, including two Americans. Before returning to the United States, the detective and his team worked side by side with Special Forces units in Afghanistan to discover a biological weapons factory.
Back in New York, Detective McHale resumed his grueling schedule working a full shift with the Joint Terrorism Task Force followed by a full shift with the Local #40 team. In late May 2002, the honor of cutting down the last steel beam at the World Trade Center was given to Detective McHale in gratitude of his selfless dedication to the more than 2,975 people murdered on September 11th.
Detective Thomas McHale is one of the nation’s most highly decorated law enforcement officers. He has received the PAPD’s Medal of Honor, the Federal Law Enforcement Foundation’s Investigator of the Year award, Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence Director General’s Award, and two National Association of Police Organization’s TOP COP Awards. He continues to serve with the PAPD while being assigned to other task forces and crime squads when needed. He is married and has four daughters.
Located in the nation’s capital, the NLEOMF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring the service and sacrifice of America’s law enforcement officers. The NLEOMF Officer of the Month Program began in September 1996 and recognizes federal, state and local officers who distinguish themselves through exemplary law enforcement service and devotion to duty.
The Police Unity Tour is the official sponsor of the Memorial Fund’s Officer of the Month Program.