Sheriff's Detective Gets His Start in the Ulster BOCES Criminal Justice Program
Ulster BOCES means different things to different people.
For Gary Wells, a 2014 Kingston High School graduate, the Ulster BOCES Criminal Justice program provided him with a path to become a sheriff’s detective—a position he hadn’t even considered when he was in high school.
After successfully completing his program requirements at the Career & Technical Center, Gary went on to earn a degree in Criminal Justice in 2016 at SUNY Ulster. He then graduated from the SUNY Ulster Police Academy in 2017 and was hired as a part-time police officer for the Ellenville Police Department.
Wanting to advance his career, in 2020 Gary took a full-time position with the Rosendale Police Department, remaining with the Ellenville department on a part-time basis. Today, he is a full-time detective for the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office.
Since graduating, Gary has returned to the Career & Technical Center to visit his former teacher, Jason Young, and talk to students in the program about his own professional journey and experiences as a police officer. He shares with students that once he had struggled to identify with what was being taught in the traditional classroom environment, but found his path in the Ulster BOCES classroom.
Gary says that he went from truant to triumphant, thanks to the Criminal Justice program and his former teacher. “Mr. Young really cares about this work, and he wants his students to understand the profession,” Gary explains. “He really gave me the drive to go out and make a difference.”
Gary recalls that the rigorous coursework had included lessons on corrections, parole, probation, the court system, law enforcement, forensics, and the phonetic alphabet (a list of 26 words, each beginning with a different letter, commonly used in law enforcement to clearly verbally communicate details such as license plates or spellings).
He commends Ulster BOCES for providing him with a solid foundation and the knowledge he needed to be successful in his post-secondary education and in his career in law enforcement. “Looking back, I didn’t realize that going through the process of conducting a crime scene lab, preserving physical evidence, and collecting and submitting evidence for scientific analysis is 100 percent a crime scene investigation,” he says. “Ulster BOCES really defined what I do in my role now.”
Gary admits that it was a lot of hard work to get where he is today and that he had moments when he doubted whether he would even graduate from the police academy. He credits his wife for encouraging him to stick it out. He recalls a conversation during the process where he considered giving up, but she pushed him and said, “No way! You’ve been waiting for this your whole life.”
Gary’s original career goal was to become a canine handler, but with his wife’s support he began to explore different career options in the field. He began his new detective position with Ulster County in March 2022, and loves his new law enforcement role. “It was the best decision I ever made,” he says, explaining that his role as a detective is much different from that of a first responder. “I had wanted to be a ‘road cop’ and get large amounts of narcotics off of the streets,” he shares. The role of policing, he explains, was reactive and included answering calls for credit card theft and shootings. Today, as a detective, he practices proactive policing, which focuses on preventing or reducing crime, and investigating and solving ongoing cases or cases as they occur.
Gary also enjoys using new technologies to fight and solve crime. “I am fortunate that I am young and don’t have a hard time adjusting to technology,” he says, referring to high-tech tools including body cameras, computer forensics, and “cell phone pings,” which enable law enforcement to determine where a cell phone user’s device has been.
“What I have learned from being a detective is that new technology can really solve a case quickly,” he says.