By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Cooperstown Police Chief Michael Covert helped make the Village a place people wanted to come back to, said former Mayor Jeff Katz.
“Mike was a music fan, so when we had the Furthur concert in Doubleday Field, Mike made the executive decision that, as long as it was contained there, he wasn’t going to arrest most people,” Katz recalled. “He would be a presence, but not a harsh presence, and people still talk about what an amazing experience that was. Mike was a big part of that.”
Covert, 59, died Sunday night, March 1, 2020, at home after a long illness. “He was a sweet, sensitive guy and that’s how he policed, which is what you want in a chief,” the former mayor said.
Born May 4, 1960, in Pompton Plains, Pequannock Township, N.J., Mike was the son of Robert Ellis and Ruth Ann (Schilling) Covert. Raised in Oakland, N.J., Mike attended school there, and in the summers he and his family spent time in Hartwick, where he moved in 1977. He graduated from Cooperstown High School in 1978.
In 1986, he began his career as a corrections officer at the Otsego County Jail, and in 1989 he became an officer with the Cooperstown Police Department (CPD), where he served until 2000, when he became a sheriff’s deputy.
“We all get in this job because we want to help people, but Mike had a real knack for it,” recalled Sheriff Richard J. Devlin, Jr.
Though he retired in 2011 as an investigator, later that year he was hired as Cooperstown police chief.
“We interviewed a few people, but Mike was really a calming presence,” said Katz. “That was what we needed.”
In 2015, at the height of the opioid epidemic, Covert created the Police Assisted Addiction & Recovery Initiative (PAARI), which allowed any drug user to come into the station and ask to go into treatment, free of charge. Over 170 individuals participated in the “Angel” program, as he called it, and were placed in rehab facilities across the country. He also pushed for local pharmacies to make Nasal Narcan available to residents without a prescription.
“We would refer people to Mike and he helped them,” said Devlin.
“That’s the kind of guy he was,” said Katz. “He wanted to help people one-on-one, rather than just chuck them into the system.”
But following a series of health issues, including a heart attack and renal failure, Covert stepped down as chief.
Denied health insurance by the county or village due to a technicality, fellow law enforcement officer Mike Ten Eyck launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for his medical care.
“Anyone who has met Michael K. Covert over the years knows that he would do anything for anyone and not expect a thing in return,” Ten Eyck wrote.
In one case, Covert recounted in a 2019 profile in this newspaper following his diagnosis, one of the women he had helped through the ANGEL program offered him her kidney for transplant when she visited him in the hospital. “She said I saved her life,” he said. “She thought it was the least she could do.”
Mike is survived by his wife, Deborah, whom he married on June 15, 2018, in Hartwick; his three daughters, Colleen Witter and husband, Jason, of West Winfield, Dana Conte and husband, Nathan, of Hartwick, and Lisa Covert and fiancé, Jason Rashkow, of Castleton-on-Hudson; two grandsons, Joseph and John Conte; three granddaughters, Kathryn Conte and Mackenzie and Gwendolyn Witter; one sister and brother-in-law, Kathleen and Jon Sammis of Petersham, Mass.; and his aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, along with several special friends.
A celebration of his life will be held later this Spring.
“He wasn’t just a co-worker, he was a friend,” said Devlin. “He really will be missed.”