An American police officer who moved to Ireland in 2000 with his Irish wife overcame many obstacles to become an award winning member of the Garda Siochana (Irish police force).
Scott Kahler, 38, married a young Co. Roscommon woman, Sandra, in 1999. They met and fell in love in 1994 when Sandra was working with Kahler’s sister in Montauk, Long Island.
It was Sandra’s love of her country that finally brought the newlyweds to Ireland in 2000.
“You know Irish girls and their fondness for their families,” laughed Kahler during an interview with Irish Central last week.
“We lived up in Westchester County until she finally made good on her threat to go back home.”
Kahler, who chose a career in law enforcement because “something inside” of him “dislikes criminality,” was born in Nesconset, Long Island.
When Kahler, who has no Irish roots, met Sandra he was working for the New York State University Police in Purchase, Westchester County.
Kahler, who graduated from Stony Brook University with a BA in English, said that his interest in becoming a police officer came from a family friend.
“A friend of the family worked as a K-9 cop in Suffolk County, and he sort of inspired me to get into law enforcement,” said Kahler.
Kahler applied for the training and was accepted. “I loved it,” he said.
After graduating he got a job in a nice suburban university town.
“The people I worked with were great and, being a rather small department, I had the chance to get involved in many varied aspects of police work,” recalls Kahler.
After settling into Ireland in 2000, Kahler set off on the audacious journey of trying to get himself into the Irish police force in Ireland. Unfortunately each door he tried to open was locked. An age requirement put him over the limit to join the force, and fluency in the Irish language was something he didn’t have.
Although disappointed, Kahler held firmly onto his dream of becoming a Garda. If the police force wouldn’t allow him on the streets then maybe there was another way. He inquired about becoming a Garda instructor.
“I had gained qualifications as a police firearms instructor in my last year with the New York State University Police,” he said.
But no joy on that one either. Kahler was told that all trainers for the Gardai had to be members of the force.
Settling for the next best thing, Kahler accepted the position of a coordinator for a juvenile justice diversion project.
“It was enjoyable working with young people who were at risk of offending behavior and I learned a bit about how formative the early years are, but I missed the camaraderie of working as part of a team that police work offered,” he said.
He was content but always held out hope that someday he would be able to join the Irish police force. Kahler’s dream was soon made possible when the Garda Siochana shifted the application age limit to 35.
“I chanced my arm by taking the exam and getting past the first round of interviews before they caught on that I had no Irish,” said Kahler. Although successful, his application was shelved. He needed to speak Gaelic.
Kahler, who has two sons, Christian, 5 and Ryan, 5 months, was a few months away from his 35th birthday when he received word that Irish fluency was no longer a pre-requisite for becoming a member of the Irish police force.
“I took the test again a few months before my 35th birthday. This time, although it took a while for my educational qualifications to be reviewed, I made it in,” he says.
Kahler was elated. His perseverance and patience finally paid off. Life in his new country couldn’t get any better.
In May, 2007, Kahler started in the Garda Siochana training college in Templemore, County Tipperary. He admits his experience as a New York University police officer fascinated his Irish colleagues during his Templemore training.
“I think that I was a bit of a novelty, maybe, because of being American and I was also the oldest trainee,” he said.
“Most people would ask me about the training at home and about carrying a firearm. I suppose I was just someone different with slightly different perspectives on policing based on my experience.”
During his graduation ceremony last year, Kahler was awarded a medal from the Templemore Town Council. The town honored Kahler because he displayed a “keen appreciation of the key role” that the Garda Siochana plays within Irish society.
“I involved myself within the communities where I trained by performing charitable work and engaging proactively with young people,” said Kahler.
On the accolade, Kahler said he was “very appreciative for the recognition” but that several other trainees would have been deserving of such praise.
Although under strict instructions from the Garda headquarters in Ireland not to divulge too much information regarding his training and his career, Kahler did say the biggest difference between training as a Garda in Ireland and a police officer in the U.S. is that the Gardai training had been “slightly more academic based” than the training he received at the New York State Police Academy 12 years previous.
Kahler, who has been told by his family in New York that he has picked up an Irish accent, was clear to point out that he was never made to feel “like my opinions or ideas” were invalid because he was not Irish born.
“I have received quite a bit of support and friendship from both the training staff at the Garda college and my colleagues. I tried hard to blend in well with my colleagues, because I didn't want to be known as just the American Garda,” he said.
After completing his training in Templemore, Kahler said a degree in police studies accompanied his full police powers. In the U.S. he would have needed at least two years of college under his belt before even applying for police training.
Kahler, who will be making a trip to New York this year to visit his family, is now working from a police station in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath.
“I am very happy with my station and the unit I work with, so I see myself staying here for the foreseeable future,” he said.
Kahler, who commutes to Mullingar from Roscommon every day (about 45 minutes each way), works sporadic eight hour shifts that can be tough on his family life but he fully understands that that’s the life of a cop, no matter what country you are in.
“It is tough in that my hours constantly change. A few nights, then a few afternoons, and then a few mornings. However, the time off at the end of each working week is generally longer,” he said on the positive side.
On the differences between working as a police officer in Ireland and the U.S., Kahler admits there aren’t too many.
“Apart from certain personal issued equipment, I am still interacting with the same spectrum of people on a daily basis and tasked with performing the same functions, more or less,” he said.
“ Most people are decent and a pleasure to help, but there are always going to be the small percentage of the population who are intent on criminality or offending behavior. In that sense, Irish and American society are not all that different, in my experience.”
Kahler, who misses “good Italian food, nice summers, family and the American sense of pride,” has settled nicely into Ireland.
“I enjoy the countryside and the relaxed atmosphere in most parts of the country. In some ways it's unfortunate that the pace of life has picked up so much in the nine years that I've lived here, but there's still something quaint about living in a quiet, rural part of the country,” he says.
Kahler said he feels nothing but pride when he wears his uniform.
“I take a lot of pride in it because I know the sacrifices that have been made by members in the past and in the present,” he said.
“ A young Garda was killed in the line of duty just before I graduated in April, so I'm well aware of the symbol that a police uniform represents.”