By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Later today, Art Hawker will take his sport jacket down from the hanger on his office bookshelf, slip into the sleeves and head home.
It will be a quiet end to a long and distinguished career in law enforcement, both in Sullivan County and statewide.
“Everyone always says you know when it’s time to go. And I just feel it’s time,” the 61-year-old related last week inside the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office’s patrol headquarters in Monticello.
Hawker, the patrol chief, has spent the past five years in the Bushnell Avenue building, overseeing more than three dozen deputies and detectives.
It’s where he started his own career in 1972. Fresh from the Vietnam War (where he served as an Army infantryman), the Narrowsburg native began as a road patrol deputy.
By 1977, Hawker was a detective sergeant, but he decided to take his next step with the State Police, heading off to the Academy that September.
There he met a man who would become a friend, coworker, and now, his boss.
“[Sullivan County Sheriff] Mike Schiff was in my class,” Hawker recalled.
Upon graduating in 1978, Hawker returned to Sullivan County, thanks to a vacancy at the Liberty barracks (then located in Ferndale).
Four-and-a-half years later, he was promoted to the State Police’s Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI), becoming an investigator focused on fires.
He stayed at Ferndale till 1987, then moved to Troop F’s Middletown headquarters when he became a lieutenant.
A promotion to captain in 1992 sent him to Troop K’s HQ in Poughkeepsie, but a few months later he was named bureau captain at Middletown, lessening a long commute.
Nevertheless, the State Police again promoted him in 1996, this time to major, and with that came another move to Troop C in Sidney.
Two years later, they moved him even farther north, to Albany, then to Syracuse, serving as an inspector with Internal Affairs.
May of 2001 saw him transferred to Newburgh, but the now-lieutenant-colonel soon was back in Albany at State Police headquarters, finally retiring in November of 2006.
“Off and on, I’d run into Sheriff Schiff, and he said he was looking into creating a patrol chief position,” Hawker related.
He liked the idea of defining the job and of course, being back close to home.
Narrowsburg, after all, was where he’d grown up, become a member of the fire department, and first developed an interest in fire investigations.
“To me, it was the best of all worlds,” he said.
In addition to working on crimes both big and small, Hawker found himself involved with the District Attorney’s Office, internal affairs investigations, counterterrorism efforts, and the development of new Sheriff’s Office policies and procedures.
He relished the work but don’t expect to see him making a run for Sheriff.
“I have no interest in politics,” he said, grateful that Sheriff Schiff and Undersheriff Eric Chaboty handle that side.
The admiration is mutual.
“He’s universally respected and has been a mentor to the deputies under him,” acknowledged Chaboty. “His retirement is a great loss to the department and to Sullivan County.”
“He was always an outstanding cop, a man of integrity,” remarked Schiff. “He’s been a rock and a good friend to me and the county.
“He is a class act.”
Hawker’s replacement is Blake Muthig, a Liberty native and himself an ex-trooper.
“Art will be a tough act to follow,” Muthig admitted. “He’s probably the best investigator I think you could encounter.”
Muthig, 58, served with Hawker during their trooper years, and, like Hawker, he’s also a longtime friend of Schiff’s.
He called Hawker “tenacious.”
“If you were a bad guy and did something wrong,” Muthig explained, “you weren’t going to get away with it.”
He doesn’t plan to make many changes to the office, crediting Hawker with developing a top-notch staff.
But like Hawker, he’s watched Sullivan County’s crimes become more violent and gang-oriented, with burglaries spiking in particular.
“People’s homes have to be safe,” he admonished. “We’ve got to deal with that.”
After today, that will be up to him, rather than Hawker.
“I think Blake will be a good fit,” Hawker mused. “I feel I’m leaving the office in capable hands.”
Hawker will meanwhile retain proud memories of cases solved catching the people who held up the Monticello McDonald’s in a late-night robbery, putting away reckless drivers who killed others on local roads, and apprehending murderers, drug dealers and arsonists.
He’s giving up that sometimes harsh life for the pleasures of fishing, reading, landscape photography, serving as Town of Tusten Historian and spending time with wife Pat and their four grown children.
But he won’t forget what he’s leaving behind.
“I will definitely miss the people I deal with ... and the daily pace,” he acknowledged wistfully. “My hat is off to those young cops who are now in the trenches. Their biggest challenge is the constant crime rate: thefts, shootings, crimes of violence.
“The detectives are swamped with crimes against people and property and it all comes back to drugs.”
His hat is off too to the sheriff and undersheriff, whom he said face the just-as-great challenge of funding and staffing.
“It costs a lot of money to run a police department,” Hawker affirmed. “They’ve made tremendous strides in securing grants for equipment and establishing offices where the deputies can work.
“They’ve brought a new, more professional image to the Sheriff’s Office.”
And they may yet work together Hawker remains a paid state fire instructor and volunteer county fire investigator.
Maybe he’ll even be out fighting a few fires?
“Oh yeah,” he affirmed.