A visit to Jeff Bagnall’s second-floor office above Sweeps Vacuums involved more layers of security than most government buildings.
First, his wife Patti would go in back to see if he was available. Jeff would amble out in his usual fedora-and-pocketed-vest attire. After a gum-chewing grin and a firm handshake, he’d offer a visitor a coffee from his machine. (Declining was not an option.) If you were deemed trustworthy enough, next came a short trip upstairs in a small, keyed elevator that he’d installed in his 700-block shop.
At last, you reached the inner sanctum: A moderate-sized office crammed with video monitors showing various views of the interior and sidewalk. My understanding was that he was also able to monitor the sound both inside and out of the shop. Before he sold his vacuum domain names—website addresses which he’d cornered in the 1990s—a computer screen kept careful track of web traffic and online sales. (At one point, he was reputedly the largest web retailer of vacuums, but eventually Jeff concluded that it was better to take a lump-sum payment for the domains than to bother with fulfilling electronic sales.)
Jeff was also an aficionado of portable surveillance gear, having a drawer full of handheld and disguised recording devices which could be slipped into a pocket. Even in the protected confines of this command center, Jeff spoke in hushed tones, as if suspicious that his interlocutor might be wearing a wire. He likewise was constantly armed, a precaution which came in handy when a well-known local lunatic randomly slashed him with a knife in front of his store: Jeff drew his gun and held the attacker in place until the HPD arrived to make an arrest. Until his health prevented it, he was fond of venturing across the alley behind Sweeps to the Iron Horse, where he was a regular.
A retired police Captain who ran the huge Nassau County department for two decades, in the first years of this new century Jeff also was a Freemason, and served as Hudson’s Police Commissioner. Unlike many holders of this appointed position, Jeff was proud to have faced down repeated attempts to politically influence his management of the Department. His tenure was marked, among other things, by the scandal-ridden “retirement” of the then-police chief, whom Jeff had investigated for charging the force for time spent on personal matters—specifically, time spent with a woman not his wife, in a love nest next-door to the station. It was during his time that the police finally began to crawl out from its bad reputation earned in the 1980s and ’90s. One of his Nassau County colleagues wrote at the time of his death that “Jeff was a great guy and would give you the shirt off his back.”
Jeff was mindful that opponents of St. Lawrence Cement had many concerns about the safety of their persons and property, and took steps behind the scenes to reassure those seeking to “stop the plant” that the HPD would look after everyone, regardless of their position on the proposal. When we organized a massive march in Hudson in 2001, Jeff made sure that there was a subtle yet obvious law-enforcement presence: not to intimidate the protestors, but to let us know that they weren’t going to allow the marchers to be harassed.
Jeff prided himself on his integrity as well as his deeply-held skepticism of politicians. He was not afraid to take public stands and back people he believed in. He knew—and kept—a lot of local secrets, while quietly aiding more people than anyone knew. He was someone I felt comfortable turning to whenever I had a big decision to make.
Jeff also seemed to have an endless supply of jokes, many of them unprintable here. (On the more printable side, his storefront for many years featured a straw broom labeled “Economy Model.”)
To this day I expect to turn and see one of his giant SUVs crawling up Warren Street, festooned with spotlights and radar and antennae. Often when he spotted a friend, he would pull over and summon them to a hushed conference in the passenger seat. His steady and unwavering presence is much missed—not to mention having a local place to buy Miele bags or fix an old Electrolux.