Police Officer Thomas “Tommy” Shevlin took over the reins of the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association — Nassau’s largest law enforcement union — on January 1, 2022. In his first 10 months, Shevlin has become a recognizable figure in organized labor, and a voice respected by his peers, members, elected officials and the general public alike.
Shevlin has earned a reputation as a “cop’s cop,” not only through advocating on behalf of officers but also as one himself. He is second-generation law enforcement. His father, also Thomas, was an NYPD Homicide Detective. In 1998, he followed suit, taking the sacred oath and becoming an NYPD officer.
“I was inspired by my father; it was always a dream of mine to walk in his footsteps,” he says. “I was the type of kid who always followed the rules. As a kid, I’d wear my dad’s hat and his uniform. I’d dress up as a cop, not only on Halloween but on a regular basis. I knew early on I wanted to be a police officer.”
Born in Queens and raised in Valley Stream, Shevlin spent his early career in the NYPD’s 70th Precinct, patrolling Flatbush, Brooklyn. He would later be assigned to the anti-crime unit, directly investigating and combatting rising crime in the borough. Officer Shevlin would serve as an undercover cop for the Organized Crime Control Bureau in the later stages of his tenure with the NYPD, before 2005, when he joined the Nassau police force.
When he came to Long Island, Shevlin was assigned to Nassau’s Third Precinct, which spanned from the border of Nassau and Queens, eastward to the Wantagh State Parkway. He would patrol the towns and villages of this precinct for 12 years before he was transferred to the Employee Assistance Office. In this capacity, he would work as a counselor for law enforcement officers.
During the same time, he was first elected to represent the union. He was a delegate for the Third Precinct, speaking on behalf of 200 cops and getting early experience with the union he would later lead.
“While I was in the Third Precinct, and as a union rep, we experienced all types of situations,” he says. “The Third is one of the larger precincts in the county, so we saw a little bit of everything.
“During this period of time, the police department also experienced tragedies,” he adds. “We had two of our brothers die of 9-11 related illness. We had an officer shot in the line of duty. We had two officers, tragically, take their own lives.
“I also began dealing with my own personal mental health issues, which inspired me to start training in the field of counseling,” he continues. “After losing a close friend and fellow police officer, I went back to school, realizing that I had to try to do more, on a larger scale for our members. I had to try to break the stigma of mental health among police.”
Since then, Shevlin has been a fervent advocate for all of the needs of Nassau County cops but perhaps speaks most passionately about their mental health. For many years, the topic garnered little media attention or resources. Shevlin’s voice emerged, clearly bringing attention to the stresses, traumas and short- and long-term mental health impacts of the job on officers.
As PBA president, his signature tagline to his officers is: “Back each other up, mentally and physically.” Each and every message released to his members concludes this way. Shevlin sees this as an opportunity to emphasize the importance of supporting one another through difficult times associated with the profession of law enforcement.
Shevlin, who speaks openly about his own experiences with mental health, hopes that these types of gestures will help destigmatize discussions about anxiety and depression among those who wear the uniform, and ultimately, enable them to get the help they need.
In his first year as president of the PBA, Shevlin has become among the most visible figures in law enforcement and organized labor, speaking to the needs of his membership and the entire law enforcement community.
As the leader of an organization like the PBA, his members have an inherently dangerous job. Law enforcement officers in Nassau — as well as anywhere — put their lives on the line each and every time they report for duty. That is why Shevlin has made it clear that the safety and preparedness of Nassau cops is among his top priorities.
“I’m proud of our officers and the work they do,” he says. “It takes a special person to put on a bulletproof vest, kiss their families goodbye, not knowing if they’re coming back. That’s why it’s my top priority to look out for them, make sure they’re safe, and take care of them and their families.”
Over the past three years, there has been no more notable example of challenges for law enforcement than COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic, law enforcement did not have the option of working from home. While they were responding to emergencies and protecting public safety, they were on the front lines. When they returned home, they brought those front lines to their households and living rooms.
“COVID-19 added a lot more stress to being a police officer,” he says. “Not only did they have to worry about the regular challenges, they also had to worry about getting sick and bringing the virus home to their families.
“Police officers don’t have the luxury of remaining six feet apart,” he adds. “When we respond to emergencies — be it a sick individual or a member of the community — we are the ones that are there to help. That’s our job. Nassau County police officers never failed to do this job, and did so with the utmost professionalism.”
When asked about the transformative moments throughout his own career, he says it’s all about helping others. Whether it was in his capacity as a patrol officer, as a counselor, or now as president of the PBA, he gets the most satisfaction out of making a difference.
“To me, I have the best job in the world,” he says. “As a police officer, there is nothing more rewarding than helping another person who is calling in their own time of need. I don’t only get to do that for the general public, but now I get to do that for police officers.”
He adds, “There is no greater reward than being thanked by a police officer or their family for helping them.”
While Shevlin’s career in law enforcement is accomplished, he says that his greatest point of pride is his family. He is married with two young sons — who themselves want to follow in their grandfather’s and father’s footsteps and become police officers.
“They dress up every day,” he says. “It makes me feel like I’m doing something right.”
In the family time spent, he often ventures eastward. When spending time on the South Fork, he and his family have fallen in love with Montauk.
“I’ve been going out east to Montauk every summer with my wife since we first met,” he says.
While spending time with his loved ones, friends and family, his family relaxes much like we all do, whether it’s on Montauk’s renowned beaches, listening to live music or even chasing his kids around the playground or soccer field.
“We’ve started our own tradition, and that’s what I love,” Shevlin concludes. “Each and every summer, I cherish the time I spend with them.”
Todd Shapiro is an award-winning publicist and associate publisher of Dan’s Papers.