New Castle News

April 5, 2014

Two city police officers stepping down

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — The careers of police lieutenants Cyndi Collingwood and Nate Akins spanned an era when city crime was at a peak.

The two New Castle officers are retiring their badges this month after having protected and served the city collectively for more than half a century.

Collingwood, 55, bid tearful good-bye to fellow officers Friday after a 25-year career.

Akins, 60, will sign off April 19 after 29 years as a street cop, “by choice,” he said.

The city’s first policeman to patrol on a motorcycle in at least 30 years, Akins nixed a sergeant’s job in the detective bureau three times, saying he couldn’t help people while sitting behind a desk.

He has been the department’s patrol lieutenant since 1996.

“I needed to be on the streets. I knew everybody,” he said, adding he has persuaded many offenders to turn themselves in.

Chief Bobby Salem said he looks up to Akins, who taught him a lot about the streets.

“He’s been a mentor to me,” Salem noted, adding Collingwood was “my right arm,” since he became chief. She spent the past two years working in administration as Salem’s assistant.

“They’ve helped me greatly,” Salem said, adding Akins is godfather to his 14-year-old son.

Collingwood wanted to be a police officer since she was a child. She recalled shopping with her mother at Gaylord’s department store in Shenango Township, where a policeman was always at the front of the store.

“I told my mother I wanted to be just like him when I grew up.”

She grew to 6 feet tall and was 25 when she enrolled at Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s municipal police academy at Shenango High School.

Her first hire was as a part-time officer in Wampum. Two years later, on Jan. 27, 1989 — her mother’s birthday — she joined New Castle’s force.

Louis Piscitelli was the police chief and Richard Christofer was mayor.

After patrol, Collingwood spent 11 years as a detective and advanced to lieutenant. She was the city’s juvenile officer for six years and taught the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program in the schools. Her students at New Castle then included some of this year’s basketball championship team, she said. She met up with them recently at an autograph signing.

“It made me feel good that they remembered me.”

Akins had worked in maintenance and mechanics for the Lawrence County Housing Authority from 1972 to 1981. He applied for the city police job three times before he was hired.

“Police work’s what I always wanted to do.”

The late Dale Yoho, his high school classmate, was mayor and Vince Russo was police chief.

“I’m truly blessed that we had the old-timer officers to show us the ropes,” Akins said. “I remember them telling me that if you helped one person in your career, you’ve done your job.”

When he was hired, he had to ride in the cruiser with a seasoned officer for a whole year before he could patrol on his own.

When Victor Cubellis became chief, Akins persuaded Cubellis to let him patrol on motorcycle.

When Collingwood joined the force, she recalled, city crime was at an all-time high for robberies, drugs and bar fights, and Bill’s Corner on Smithfield Street and the Gables on Grant Street were trouble spots.

They’ve responded together to shootings, homicides, drug raids, fatal accidents and unfortunate situations with children. And they’ve lost brothers in arms.

Collingwood had a close call once. A man who said he was declaring war on the police wanted to commit suicide by cop shot at her, she recounted. He went to jail for 14 years and later apologized.

“I am truly blessed to have done the job that I love,” Collingwood said. “You preach to the young ones to get your 25 years and get out in one piece.”

Both lieutenants have impacted the lives of people in their community.

As they reminisced in a local restaurant, a waitress approached Collingwood and said that she remembers her from a program called “Super Troopers” at the Sankey Youth Center.

“We looked up to you all, big time,” the waitress told her.

Akins had perfect attendance at work.

“I was blessed with a good work ethic,” he said. Upon retiring, he wants to find a job that is not police work. “There’s something else out there for me.”

He’s been popular among his fellow officers for his talent at barbecuing ribs. He has catered them for many years at Fraternal Order of Police and Blue Knights gatherings. He learned the business from his brother-in-law, James Posey, a Pittsburgh restaurateur who was killed by a drunk driver Dec. 22.

Collingwood’s next chapter begins Monday, when she becomes full-time secretary to Mayor Anthony Mastrangelo.

The police department is hosting a party next month for the two retirees, possibly the first in 30-year history, and Akins and Collingwood said they feel honored.

“A lot of others have walked out the door and were forgotten about,” Akins said.