Police Chief James Watt: The challenges of keeping Goshen slow motion

Watt describes his Goshen life, from a boyhood of sports to a career coping with crimes in banks, homes and churches.

| 05 Apr 2022 | 06:14

James C. Watt, Village of Goshen Chief of Police, has been at the helm of the police department for more than 20 years. But he’s been involved in law enforcement longer than that and grappled with an assortment of crimes along the way. He was given a place in the Goshen Hall of Fame several years ago, and, beyond the miscreants, he describes Goshen as a “nice caring community.”

Watt started as a part-time officer with the Goshen Village Police Department in Oct., 1981, and by Jan. of 1982, he was hired full-time, with Frederick Walker as chief. Currently there are 17 full-time officers, two part-time and five part-time School Resource Officers under Watt’s command.

In 1961, Watt was born in the seven columns hospital located on Greenwich Avenue in Goshen; the hospital building is now used as office space. He went through Goshen schools, graduating in 1979 from Goshen Central High School.

Clear about his interests, he attended Orange County Community College and graduated with an Associate Degree in criminal justice. He went on to attend the Chester Police Academy, run by Roger Phillips.

“Roger went from being police chief in Chester to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department,” said Watt, adding, “He was a great man and a great police officer, who really got me going in my career.”

While Watt was a young patrolman in 1981, the infamous Brink’s robbery took place in Nanuet, NY. The trial was relocated to Orange County.

“Even though our department was extra staffed, it was a stressful time,” said Watt. “We were all working 12-hour shifts for months. We had to deal with tight perimeter security, protestors who showed up and other unpredictable issues. These were domestic terrorists. This is where it all started.”

The Brink’s robbery was an armed robbery carried out by members of the Black Liberation Army and four former members of the Weather Underground that resulted in a theft of $1.6 million in cash from a Brink’s armored car, three deaths, and three serious injuries.

In 1983, Goshen’s Chief Walker passed away and Lt. John Egbertson became Goshen’s Village Police Chief.

Said Watt, “He was like a father to me—my best mentor of many mentors I’ve had. I learned everything that I had to for my professional career, but I learned a lot more, like being a man and being a member of the community. I looked up to him in so many ways.”

In 1995, Watt became a sergeant on the force. In 1999, Chief Egbertson passed away, and Watt became Chief of Police. “And here we are,” Watt noted. That was 23-years ago.

“I hope I’m keeping up the standards of Chief Walker and Chief Egbertson. That is my goal,” said Watt.

“People refer to our town, disparagingly as ‘slow-motion-Goshen.” I view it as a compliment. If it’s not ‘slow-motion-Goshen,’ then I’m not doing my job,” he said. “A lot goes on behind the scenes to make it ‘slow-motion. We’re lucky to have a talented core of young people on our force keeping us safe.“

Watt recalled growing up in Goshen--playing on Little League teams, high school football and hockey with friends on various ponds. He went to Greenberg’s Variety with his mom for candy and coke from the cooler outside the store, and on Saturdays--after getting a haircut--he went to the bakery next door with his mom for cookies.

“Watching the train come through the Village was always a big deal,”
he remembered.

But all has not been calm, without incident, in Goshen. Beside the Brink’s trial, Chief Watt has been involved with other difficult cases:

. In 1992, in the case against Father Edward Pipala, assigned to St. John the Evangelist Church in Goshen in 1989, he was found to have sexually abused and molested as many as 50 boys, who he supplied with alcohol, pills, cigarettes and pornography. Pipala was laicized in 2005 and died in 2013.

In 1991, Goshen resident Josh Duggan kidnapped two young local girls, raping one girl and sexually abusing the other. As a patrolman, Watt investigated the case. Duggan was sentenced to 32-years in the Mid-Orange Correctional Facility.

Nathaniel White, a Goshen/Middletown serial killer, was apprehended in Aug. 1992 and was found guilty of murdering six women between 1991 and 1992. The bodies were found in several locations in Goshen and Middletown. White was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder and sentenced to 150 years to life in prison.

In 2014, resident Helen Mills was murdered in her home on Green Street. Two teenagers broke into her home with the intent to steal money to buy drugs. She resisted, and they murdered her and set her home on fire to cover the crime. They were apprehended and sentenced to 19 and 20 years to life behind bars.

“It’s been an interesting career for a small town,” said Watt. “I enjoy living in a safe community, but we have to realize things can happen anywhere, anytime.”

Patrolling downtown, lets Watt and his officers get to know many of Goshen’s youth; they keep an eye on what young people are doing and who they’re with.

“We watch out for the kids and have conversations with parents, if need be. It prevents a lot of problems,” he said.

However, Watt is aware that much of what the youth are involved with now goes on right in their own homes. “We can watch what they’re doing on the street, but they can go to a lot of strange places in their own homes. Little we can do to prevent that,” he said, cautioning parents, “Be involved with your children. Things are more difficult and complicated than they ever were.”