NEWTON, NJ- Newton Police Chief Michael Richards bid his final farewell to the department he has served for 30 years.
“That’s a lot of years driving to the same place,” Richards said.
Dressed for his new job as manager of the Sussex County Fair Grounds, Richards took his ceremonial ‘walk out’ on Wednesday. Newton officers including the acting Chief Robert Osborne were joined by Sparta Chief Neil Spidaletto and three Sparta officers and New Jersey State Police Officer Krishnanda.
“I can say I was there when you became chief and on your last day,” Krishnanda said.
Richards was led outside by bagpiper Steve Moran.
“I always wanted bagpipes at my funeral,” Richards said as he addressed the crowd assembled in the back-parking lot. “It’s okay for my retirement.”
Dispatch called over the radio, announcing Richards was "leaving the watch." Listening over the squad car radio, the crowd heard a summary of Richards’ career.
“Headquarters to all units…It is with great pleasure to announce the retirement of Newton Police Department’s 10th appointed Chief of Police, Michael S Richards, Badge number 19 as of 1600 hours on this date.
Richards began his career with the Newton Police Department in November 1989 as police dispatcher. He served as Class II Special and Sussex County Sheriff’s Officer then Newton Patrolman in 1994 “where he vowed to protect and serve our community with courage, strength and commitment.”
The dispatcher continued to share Richards' history with Newton. Rising through the ranks he became Detective in 2000, Sergeant in 2002, Lieutenant in 2006 and chief in 2010. During that time he earned honors and accolades and held leadership positions in the county. In 2008 he earned the Chief William Geffken Detective of the Year Award. He was:
- President of the Sussex County PBA from 1999 to 2002,
- President of Detectives’ Association from 2006 to 2009,
- President of the County Police Chiefs’ Association in 2017.
Richards has had an impact on the community and the county, the dispatcher said. He helped establish the 9/11 Memorial and indoor firing range for law enforcement training. He is a member of Sussex County Public Safety Memorial Committee and a board member of Ginnie’s House.
In 2015, looking to address the growing opioid problem, he helped create the CLEAR program with the Center for Prevention and Counseling.
The final call ended with a sentiment that brought tears.
“After 30 years of service, we want to thank you for representing the department with professionalism and unsurpassed dedication to the Town of Newton. You’ve exemplified a long and distinguished law enforcement career and through your leadership you gave us direction.
“An outstanding chief is hard to find, difficult to part with and impossible to forget. Best wishes in retirement and all your future endeavors. We’ve got it from here.”
With his wife and daughter looking on, Richards thanked them for “allowing me to have this career, to be able tot be there at a moment’s notice.” He thanked the officers who mentored him and officers “who’ve had my back,” saying they shared the goal of “having a positive impact on the town and beyond.”
Richards said two other officers are retiring as well; Hardyston’s Bret Alemy and Byram’s Pete Zabita. He said they will be holding an event at the Mohawk House on March 26. Each of the three retiring chiefs will select a charity to be supported by the event.
“Stay tuned,” he said.