Monsey Memories: Paul Toth, Spring Valley Chief of Police
By: Yitzy Fried
Last week, Chief Paul Toth passed away at his home in Sarasota, Florida, at the age of eighty-nine. He dedicated thirty-two years of his life to the Spring Valley Police Department. Beginning his career as a patrolman in 1956, he rose through the ranks to sergeant, lieutenant, and chief, retiring in 1988.
Spring Valley would have seen a lot of change in these years—including a transformation from a hamlet to suburban center.
In 1961, The Journal News reported: “Patrolman Paul Toth, Spring Valley Police Department, received the first of the Journal-News Police Honor Awards in brief ceremonies yesterday morning. Toth received a ‘Citation of Commendable Merit’ for an ‘act of exceptionally intelligent and meritorious police work’… the police work that led to Toth’s selection for the merit aware was his part in the arrest last February of one James McRae, who had assaulted a young New City mother in a self-service laundry.
“In fact, it was Toth’s intelligent and alert work that led to the arrest. On his way to the scene, Toth noticed McRae walking with a peculiar military stride. Two days later, Toth came across McRae again and remembered him from that same military stride. Toth took McRae to police headquarters, where the women identified him as her attacker. Later, McRae was sent to Mattawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.”
Fast forward to 1988, when the chief was retiring, and the Journal News wrote the following: “’Street Cop’ to hand in Chief’s Badge. Paul Toth rocks restlessly in his chair, leaning forward and back as he speaks. Sitting behind a desk seems to confine the tough-talking Spring Valley police chief. ‘I enjoyed walking the streets,’ he said. When I started 32 years ago, we walked the streets eight hours a day. I was what you’d call a street cop.
“Toth, who grew up in Spring Valley, started walking a beat when the village was a tight-knit community of 2,000-3,000 people. The village has since grown to 21,000 and the problems of law enforcement have multiplied. But Toth has bent little in the wind.
“Toth put in his retirement papers last week after six years as chief. He will give up control of the department Tuesday… I’ve reached a point where I need something new,’ the 54-year-old said.
“Toth became chief in 1981, upon the retirement of Adam Krainak, who had been a policeman since 1947. When he joined the department after 4 ½ years in the Marines, on June 15, 1956, Toth recalled, he worked for $1.65 an hour. The force had one patrol car, one sergeant, and eight patrolmen.
‘In the 1970’s, Toth led a special anti-crime detail in the Hill section of the village. ‘We had shootouts, murders, drugs, gambling; it was a bad place,’ he said. ‘In three months we had things straightened out. But back then, there was much more respect for cops; people today are not afraid of the repercussions. I—you might say—made my bones up there. When I said I was going to arrest them, they knew it.”
“But Toth added that he remembers the children and babies who died in swimming pools—young people who never grew up. ‘You can’t remove yourself from the memories,’ he said. Some things stay with you.’
And they did remain with Chief Toth for the next 35 years—until his passing, following an illustrious police career in old Monsey.