Tom Verri, a Bronx native, put on a uniform to serve his neighborhood, his city and his country. The family man has a skill set that includes law enforcement, teaching, acting and singing. By far, his favorite role is being a husband and father.
What can you share about your background?
I live in Saint Johns County with my wife, Patty, and three daughters, Brittany, 23; Sammie, 21; and Melissa, 18. I was born the youngest of seven children to a large Italian family in the Arthur Avenue section of The Bronx, New York. Mom was an operator for New York Telephone Company. Dad was a bricklayer and concrete mason. From an early age my parents instilled the values of hard work and how to pursue goals. As an 8-year-old, I spent the summer going to work with my dad. Even though I could barely move the rake, he taught me how to level concrete. I remember when I used to shake his hand it felt like I was holding a brick. He was very strong and worked very hard. Dad once saved a coworker from suffocating in a pile of collapsing sand by throwing planks across the pile and reaching in to grab him. He was fearless. I lost him that fall when he passed away suddenly, but he inspired me to never be afraid, to care about others and to put my all into my work. I never lost that drive. After graduating from Christopher Columbus High School in The Bronx, I attended S.U.N.Y. in Rockland County where I studied Emergency Medical Services.
When did you decide to pursue law enforcement?
When I was 12, we moved to the Pelham Parkway section of The Bronx. I became curious about The Pelham Parkway Block Association, which had an office located on the ground floor of our building. Its volunteers worked closely with the local NYPD Police Precinct and patrolled the community in their own vehicles equipped with magnetic “Neighborhood Patrol” decals, radios and flashlights. I respected how they gave their time to go out and keep the community safe. I started volunteering when I turned 13, mostly answering the phones, running errands and attending the meetings. At age 16, I was authorized to start going out on patrol with the adult volunteers. One night, a male suspect stole a woman’s purse and ran. Since I was just a block away, I was able to chase after the guy long enough to get a good description. When the responding NYPD units arrived, they caught him a few blocks over and recovered the woman’s purse and all her money. Later, one of the Sergeants came back to see who gave such an accurate description. He said to me, “Kid, with eyes and a memory like that you should be one of us.” Well, that just stuck. At age 18, I joined the NYPD reserve and then at 21 became a full-time police officer. I was fortunate to learn at such an early age the importance of police and community relations. So, in a way, law enforcement found me.
What is an International Police Officer and where did you serve?
International Police Officers are mentors to police in foreign countries, teaching them American-style policing techniques. In Iraq, as part of the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement branch of the U.S. Department of State, I was a Bureau Chief in command of about 700 American police officers. My mission was to coordinate training under a program developed by General Petraeus called CPATT, or Civilian Police Assistance Training Team, Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq. I worked directly for and with General Michael Jones. It was challenging and dynamic police supervision with the added element of being in a combat environment. Stationed 8,000 miles from their families, there were a lot of late-night, heart-to-heart talks with officers in my command. I did my best to keep them focused and motivated. By far, it was the most challenging and rewarding thing I have ever done. The other component of my job was to be liaison to Major General Ahmed Taha of The Iraqi Ministry of Interior Internal Affairs. I met with him daily to plan training and ensure integrity of internal investigations. We became good friends.
How did you land acting gigs?
Oh wow, the acting. Well, that is kind of a funny evolution. An FDNY friend of mine called one day and told me that a TV show called “Third Watch” was always filming near his firehouse in Brooklyn. One of the casting crew asked him to let cops with uniforms know they were seeking extras. Just for fun I went down there and they talked to me for a while, took a Polaroid, and asked if I wanted to be on “Law and Order.” I did it and that began a year of driving into N.Y.C. in the early morning hours to work both “Law and Order” and “Third Watch” as a cop extra.
I was lucky and quickly got the three union waivers I needed to get into the Screen Actors Guild. I then started auditioning for small speaking parts. I booked one on “Law and Order SVU,” and a few others like “Days of Our Lives,” “The Black Donnelly’s,” “Dead of Night” and a movie called “Diary of Preston Plummer.” I started doing comedy theater, which I really loved because I liked the challenge of a live audience. In one production in New York I played the telephone man in a remake of Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park” and was surprised when I got such great reviews. I had a lot of fun with that character. On stage you have to play “error-free baseball.” It can be scary, but it is one heck of a challenge.
I started taking acting classes at Bergdorf Studios in N.Y.C. and vocal training with a well-known Metropolitan Opera singer named Lynn Starling. When 9/11 happened, I put acting on hold to focus only on police work. This was not TV ― it was real. I lost two very good friends in the south tower collapse, Officer John Perry and Sergeant Rodney Gillis, who also worked with me on the TV shows. It wasn’t until 2010 that I started getting work again in TV.
How did you choose Northeast Florida for your current home?
We wanted to go to Florida, but we wanted to be in a place that had some change of season, was near water and wasn’t too crowded. We love St. Johns County because it has all of that plus the added bonus of having access to St. Augustine. To me, St. Johns County is heaven on Earth!
What are you doing now?
After 23 years, I retired from law enforcement in New York, but within a few years I returned and worked as a police officer for D.C. Metro P.D. I have never been one to sit idle and I really missed the job. So, I was back at it for a while, but now I am home again. I have been a Licensed Private Investigator in Florida since 2011. Currently, I am running my own private investigations company, Thomas P. Verri and Associates in St. Johns County. I have clients from law firms to politicians. On occasion I do personal protection work. I have worked with several high-profile clients. I do everything from background checks on nannies to campaign opposition research. It keeps me busy.
I am in the development stages of my own training school, Silent Warrior Concepts, where I will teach the concealed carry class along with personal firearms training for people seeking to advance their skill level. I am also a Florida Certified Firearms Instructor able to conduct the G license and Florida basic security officer courses. Currently, I am conducting one-on-one training. Teaching has always been a passion of mine. I was an adjunct instructor at both the Westchester and Rockland County police academies. I believe we have an obligation to give back to the up and coming generation.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Free time? What’s that? It is important to have balance. I really enjoy staying fit, so I take hour-long treks on my mountain bike several times a week, and our four dogs keep me busy. I am a Harley rider so I try and take trips on it as time allows. I keep up on my singing with some equipment I have at home too. I enjoy cooking for the kids even though they are all grown. Sundays we have a sit-down dinner and talk about how everyone’s week went. I have always felt that family bonding time is so important. I was raised that way. It’s a continuing routine. We all gathered at my mom’s house in the early years, so now I do it. Also, I’m a man of faith and I spend a lot of time in prayer and reflection. I have God to thank for all the blessings and success in my life and the many times He has brought me through dangerous situations.
How did you meet your wife?
Patty and I met while I was a police officer. I stopped her for turning on a red arrow. To this day she argues it was yellow! When I walked up to the car, I recognized her because she worked for a local business. She had no marks on her license so I gave her a verbal warning. We knew each other as friends for four years before we had even one date! When a mutual friend passed away in an accident we started talking more and spending more time together. One day, while she was talking to me I just looked at her and I knew she was going to be the one. We both wanted the same things. She is an excellent wife and mother. We have lasted this long because we communicate. Sure, we have had our ups and downs. Who hasn’t? My mom used to say, “Never go to bed angry; always talk it out.” Good advice! She is an excellent cook too, although I argue my Sunday gravy is better than hers. But, don’t tell her I said that!