The Oneida Indian Nation promoted Captain Gary Henderson to Acting Chief of Police on August 21, 2017 and later announced him as the permanent Chief of Police on September 18, 2017. He takes over for retiring Chief of Police Joseph Smith to lead an experienced team in serving the Nation community and its Members.
“Keeping people safe is what we do,” Police Chief Henderson said first and foremost. “Our team approach requires everybody from civilian communications all the way up the ranks to provide the best and most professional police services. We want everyone to live, work and enjoy what the Nation has to offer.”
Henderson first came to the Nation as a sergeant and is now approaching his ninth year on the Nation police force after serving just shy of 27 years with the New York State Police in Oneida. While he was there, he rose through the ranks to become Station Commander and oversaw the daily operations of the station and its satellite areas, which included 18 state troopers.
Community policing has always been a strong component of the Nation Police. Henderson frequently stated that in order to be successful, you have to involve your community.
“We’re very proud of our community policing,” he said. “We even brag about it. When we interview potential candidates, we like to gauge how they actually feel about getting out into the community and pose a couple questions to see their approach to our values. It’s important to have a positive working relationship, especially with the Nation’s Elders.”
The new Chief of Police is exceptionally qualified with his unique experience and personal connection to the Nation. Henderson moved to Oneida in the late 1970s and lived on Union Street. He saw firsthand the transformation of the community and the Nation as a whole.
“What an unbelievable transition,” Henderson said looking back on his service in Oneida and the flourishing Nation Enterprises. “And what they’ve given back to their people is amazing. It’s a great story that needs to be told and sets an example that with a certain vision and knowing where you want to go, you can accomplish anything.”
Henderson has four children and his wife, Gail, recently retired after 38 years as a special education school teacher with Madison-Oneida BOCES. They currently reside in Sherrill. His children, now all grown, have picked up the baton of public service. His youngest son, Casey, serves in the Air Force and is learning how to fly the HH-60 Pave Hawk combat rescue helicopter while undergoing SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) training in Washington State. Casey, like his father, also had a close connection to the Oneida Nation.
Casey wanted to play lacrosse when he was 13 years old, but his school district, Vernon-Verona-Sherrill, did not field a team. So Henderson took Casey over to the Nation Recreation Center to see if he could play with the Nation’s team. Ron Patterson (Wolf Clan) and Coach Brian Connors from the Onondaga Nation took Casey in and taught him how to play.
“It just shows how welcoming and supportive they were because they didn’t have to let him play,” Henderson said.
The team, along with Casey and his father, travelled all over the Six Nations for games and Casey learned the team approach to lacrosse that his coaches deeply valued. Interest grew at V-V-S and they eventually started a team at the high school level.
Henderson’s deep bond with the community will continue to be a driving force for the entire police department. That close, personal connection with the Oneida Nation – along with his impeccable credentials and experience – will enhance the Nation Police’s tradition of strong community policing.
“It’s an honor,” he said. “It’s an opportunity I couldn’t pass up and I’m glad I have the opportunity to do it.”