Whether he’s calling in close air support during a firefight or investigating narcotics activity in Syracuse, N.Y., Master Sgt. Patrick DiCrasto’s mind is focused on bringing justice to the “bad guys.”
The tactical air control party specialist at Hancock Air National Guard Base, N.Y., home of the 174th Attack Wing of the New York Air National Guard, is also a detective with the Syracuse Police Department’s Special Investigations Division. The division investigates narcotics activity and vice and works hand in hand with the gang task force. He’s also an assistant team leader with the department’s SWAT sniper squad.
“It’s what we’re here for – to get justice,” said DiCrasto, who’s also the 274th Air Support Operations Squadron superintendent of operations under the wing. The squadron is a TAC-P unit that primarily coordinates and controls close air support for an Army maneuver unit.
“We’re going out looking for bad guys overseas, and we’re going out looking for bad guys here in Syracuse. The biggest difference is you have to be able to separate the military job from the police job because you obviously can’t call in air strikes back here,” he said. “Overseas, I know what I’m there to do and what I can do to get the job done. My actions are governed by the rules of engagement, the ground scheme of maneuver and the commander’s intent. When I’m back home, I know that it’s local, state and federal laws that govern what I do as a police officer.”
DiCrasto’s two roles have several similarities, but he also knows to remain vigilant in both settings for anyone who might wish to do him harm.
“I can’t say being a police officer on the street is like being in combat,” DiCrasto said. “However, cops on the street always need to have that heightened sense of security, just like when you’re on patrol in Iraq and Afghanistan. You are always on point when it comes to looking for suspicious activity, identifying possible enemy activity, or providing security for you, your team and everyone else.”
DiCrasto began his military career as an infantryman on active duty in the Army, then worked with a scout reconnaissance platoon in the National Guard. He left the Guard to become a police officer and joined the Air National Guard in 2003, completing his TAC-P training at Hurlburt Field, Fla., the following year.
His Army background has proven useful with building trust while working with ground troops in forward locations. He deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq twice each, the last time in 2010, and found building trust a difficult, but necessary, part of the TACP role during the wars in both theaters. The knowledge that he was a prior infantryman, coupled with his SWAT experience in the police force, helped bridge that gap easier, DiCrasto believes.
“Sometimes it’s tough because you have to build that respect and trust,” he said. “Typically, it’s done in the field when your unit becomes engaged in direct combat. They’re looking to see if you can do your job, and if they can count on you to call in air support and get ordnance on target. They are always assessing to see if you can be a combat operator like them and a TAC-P. That’s when they know they can count on you.”
The same is true in police work, when officers must depend on each other to not only save their own lives, but also those of innocent civilians. Perhaps that’s why some of his most memorable cases were those he worked with Detective Steven Kilburn of the criminal investigations division. DiCrasto and Kilburn a former partner DiCrasto has known since they attended the police academy in Syracuse together, shared some of the same assignments in their careers. Although they no longer work in the same division, they remain close friends.
“I have known Pat for almost 18 years,” Kilburn said. “We went through the academy together and worked side by side for several years. I have always had admiration for him, not only because of his policing abilities, but also because of his service in the Air National Guard, and that is hard for me to say, being a former Marine. But Pat has made several sacrifices for the City of Syracuse, and even more so for the United States.”
While both worked in CID in 2006, they responded to a stabbing at about 2 a.m. A woman in her late 40s was stabbed multiple times, and her mentally-challenged adult son was also stabbed. Paramedics pronounced her dead at the scene, and the son was transferred to a local hospital but wasn’t able to help in the investigation. Some at the scene believed the case was a burglary turned violent, but DiCrasto and his partner thought the evidence showed otherwise.
“When my partner and I began discussing it, we believed the evidence at the scene pointed in a different direction,” he said. “This was not some burglar who came in and got spooked and stabbed her to death. This was somebody who was in a fit of rage. So we started focusing that night on previous boyfriends.”
They locked in on a suspect, tracked him down and found evidence in his house that supported their belief he was involved in the murder. After only a few hours of interviewing the suspect, he gave a full videotaped confession.
“It was pretty memorable because of the fact that it seemed like most wanted to go with a different theory, but my partner and I believed it was probably not a typical burglary gone wrong,” DiCrasto said.
“What was also memorable about this was at first the guy put up the resistance to our questioning, which is pretty typical of everybody we interview,” he said. “But after being presented with some of the evidence and what our theories were, it was almost like a switch had been thrown with this guy, and he wanted to tell his story. He wanted everybody to know he went there to murder her. You could tell there was evil behind his eyes, and he wanted to tell his story. As we originally suspected, he was enraged by their recent breakup.”
In another case the two officers worked on in one of the department’s crime suppression units, they collared two fugitive homicide suspects within two weeks. The first was a fugitive from Alabama who was working from an apartment building with a reputation for crime and drug activity. They used a proactive tactic to combat the nightly criminal activity at this location, he said.
“It was basically to leave two guys back, so my partner and I stayed behind after we saturated the building with our entire unit,” DiCrasto said. “Typically, when the cops leave, everybody starts coming back out. We waited in a stairwell until we heard voices, and came out and grabbed a bunch of people. One of them happened to be the homicide suspect.”
The second fugitive had been the driver in a drive-by shooting in New York City, and the pair stopped him for a taillight violation. Even though he gave them a fake name, they took the time to identify him through the department’s computerized photo system instead of letting him go with a warning.
Both DiCrasto’s civilian and military occupations are also service-directed and save lives. A TAC-P, who is a qualified joint terminal attack controller, is a force-multiplier on the battlefield, he said.
“I don’t really see my job as going out there and saving lives,” DiCrasto said of his TAC-P responsibilities. “Our job is to basically go out there and kill as much of the enemy as possible and be a force multiplier for the ground commander and his maneuver element or team. But when you get into a firefight, you typically need air support because you and your ground commander or team leader are trying to mass as much firepower on the enemy as possible. At the end of the day, depending on the situation, the close air support you called in may have saved lives. That’s one of the aspects of this job that make it so satisfying.”
DiCrasto moved to the special investigations division in 2012 after first working patrol, crime suppression and criminal investigations during his 17 years on the force. His main role in SID is investigating narcotics activity throughout the city.
“Some people think of drugs as a victimless crime, but I don’t believe it is,” he said. “I have seen how it destroys people when they are hooked on drugs and how it destroys your family. A good majority of our murders are drug and gang-related here.
“The drug users can be considered victims of their addiction, and victims of the drug dealers that pedal their products and prey on their addiction. Even though they are willing participants purchasing and using narcotics, they really are the victims because of how destructive some drugs can be.”
While DiCrasto has grown accustomed to seeing some disturbing scenes during his two careers, both in a war zone and in the city, he still has his focus on bringing justice. That remains the case, whether he’s working to help protect ground forces in a firefight or the citizens of Syracuse.