CAMBRIDGE — Longtime Cambridge-Greenwich Police Chief George Bell died late Sunday from a suspected heart attack, stunning the local law enforcement community and residents of the villages he served tirelessly for decades.
Police were called to his girlfriend’s home in the village of Cambridge around 11 p.m. Sunday, where he had passed out after feeling ill earlier in the day. When word spread of his passing in the pre-dawn hours Monday, more than 30 police cars from around the region came to his home to escort his body to a funeral home, his patrol car being driven to lead the way.
Bell, 64, had worked in local law enforcement for nearly 40 years, the last 20 of which he spent overseeing the police department in the village of Cambridge and then adding oversight of the village of Greenwich’s department as well.
The loss was a blow to local law enforcement, where the affable Bell was beloved for never turning down a call or assignment and for his community involvement as a lifelong resident of the Cambridge area. He was always quick with a joke or one-liner, and many local police officers got the start to their careers working for Bell in Cambridge or Greenwich.
“It will be a great loss for the villages,” Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy said. “He was really dedicated, particularly to those two villages.”
Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan said Bell’s passing was “profoundly sad.”
“It’s a terrible day for his family and the community but especially for all of us in law enforcement,” Jordan said. “He was just a nice guy. I will miss him terribly.”
Murphy began his police career in Washington County in 1979 and said he remembered Bell already on the job as a young sheriff’s deputy at the time.
“He was a really nice guy,” Murphy said.
“Washington County was truly blessed by his dedication to law enforcement and his community,” added State Police Senior Investigator Robert Stampfli, who supervises State Police investigators in Washington County. “He truly loved his community.”
“Regardless of the time of day or night, George would always answer the call and respond to whatever,” Washington County Public Safety Director Glen Gosnell posted on Facebook. “I had the opportunity and honor of working for George as a patrol officer for the Cambridge Police Department, he was one of the best bosses I have ever worked for. Without a doubt, Chief George Bell truly and deeply cared about the citizens of the community.”
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, also offered her condolences on social media, posting, “The passing of Cambridge-Greenwich Police Chief George Bell is tragic news. George was dedicated to public service and safety, and this is a huge loss for everyone who knew and worked with him. Please join me in keeping George’s family and colleagues in your prayers.”
Bell took over as Cambridge police chief in May 1998 after spending 19 years with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, where he had risen to the rank of lieutenant. He later became chief of the Greenwich Police Department as well, through an agreement between the villages to share police administration.
“When George took over, this department was a mess,” former Washington County Sheriff Robert Endee said in 2002. “He’s turned it into a good little police department.”
He led the massive investigation into the disappearance of 12-year-old Greenwich boy Jaliek Rainwalker, a case that he swore would be solved during his tenure.
Murphy said the Sheriff’s Office has offered administrative assistance to the villages with their police departments until they figure out a course of action for their police departments. Greenwich Mayor Pam Fuller said her village planned to take the sheriff up on the offer before determining how to move forward.
“George did so much. He was the Police Department,” she said. “It’s such a sad day for the villages of Greenwich and Cambridge. He was such a dedicated guy.”
Cambridge Mayor Carman Bogle said Patrolman Bruce Brundige will serve as the department’s supervisor, assisted by the Sheriff’s Office, going forward.
“It’s amazing how many people we have needed to pull together today just to do his job,” Bogle said.
The sudden death was the third in less than four years of longtime Washington County police officers taken far too young. Former Hudson Falls Police Detective Rick Diamond died late last year at the age of 59 and sheriff’s Senior Investigator Bruce Hamilton died at age 55 in 2014.
Calling hours for Bell will be held from from 2 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Cambridge United Presbyterian Church, with a funeral service set for 11 a.m. Friday at the church.
Cambridge Central School District released a statement Monday saying it would be closed Friday because of an anticipated absence of students, faculty and staff attending Bell’s funeral or supporting the girls’ basketball team as they play in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s state championship at 10 a.m. Friday at Hudson Valley Community College.