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Island’s first woman officer offers advice: ‘Go with your heart. Be strong’

Patricia McGayhey, 55, now retired but still working part-time for the Nissequogue Police Department, has the distinction of being the first woman ever appointed to the Shelter Island Police Department.

Officer McGayhey had worked two summers as a traffic control officer on Shelter Island before being invited by then-Chief George Ferrer in 1988 to apply as a part-time officer with the department.

Originally, she thought she might pursue a job in marketing, or as a physical education teacher or veterinarian. But she decided her calling was police work. That came after she spent two years at SUNY Agricultural College, now known as SUNY Canton, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from SUNY Plattsburgh.

“Back then, I don’t think they really did want a woman on the force,” Officer McGayhey said. Loving Shelter Island but wanting a full-time job, she was invited to join the Suffolk County Police Department and the Nissequogue Police Department.

The application process for the county department was voluminous, and Nissequogue, a village on the North Shore of Suffolk County, reminded her so much of the Island, that she opted for the latter, joining at the end of 1989 and serving almost 32 years. Retiring in December 2019, she returned to work part time in January 2020 and averages about 10 tours of duty a month.

Last month, Taylor Rando was appointed as a probationary police officer with the Shelter Island Police Department. Ms. Rando, like Officer McGahey, had been a traffic control officer. she’s presently undergoing training at the Suffolk County Police Academy. She was already among top scorers on the test necessary to establish her as a candidate for an appointment and has passed the county background check, Chief Jim Read said.

Her appointment by the Town Board at a special meeting fulfills an effort to place a woman on the currently all-male staff that the chief had suggested to the Police Reform Task Force, which filed its report with New York State at the end of March.

Much of Officer McGayhey’s work through the years was satisfying and even “pleasant,” she said. But as is the case for any police officer, there were difficult and painful moments. The worst were several suicides and one in particular — a Suffolk County Police officer about five years ago — she described as  particularly difficult.

“That was tough,” she said.

Looking back on her career, she offers advice to young women who might want to pursue careers in law enforcement. “Definitely go with your heart,” Officer McGayhey said. “Be strong [because] a lot of people will say you can’t do the job. Keep your chin up and be proud.”

It’s how her mother raised her, she said.