BERNARDS TWP., NJ - Vowing to "set our sights high in order to make this the absolute best police agency possible," Bernards Township's new police chief, Michael Shimsky, was officially sworn in to his position at town hall on Tuesday night in front of an overflow crowd of law enforcement officials, their families, and other first responders.

A new member of the police department was also sworn in, and eight more officers were publicly promoted at that night's Township Committee meeting.

Shimsky, a police officer in Bernards Township since 1996, has unofficially been acting as chief and leading the 38-member police department since the beginning of this year.

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Shimsky's promotion -- and former Chief Brian Bobowicz's retirement -- opened the way for other members of the department to move up the ranks, and also for the hiring of a new patrol officer, Dominick Aboosamara, a former police dispatcher for the department. Aboosamara, hired by the Township Committee last month, was sworn in after the new chief.

"I consider it a true honor to have been chosen to be chief of our great department," Shimsky said in an email prior to the meeting. "The men and woman of our police department are truly second to none and I look forward to taking our agency to the next level with their help."

'Law enforcement faces new challenges'

Speaking at the meeting, Shimsky spoke of his gratitude to the municipality, his goals for the department, and his observations on the changing nature of what police are expected to provide to their community.

"As current events we see in the news remind us of the dangers we face in society, our paramount priority remains the safety of our citizens," Shimsky said in a speech before the Township Committee and the crowd. "The police department will be working harder than ever protecting our schools, addressing quality of life issues, protecting the township from liability, and of course fighting crime."

He added, "Every member of this department will be evaluated on their contribution to these core objectives. Rest assured the hard working dedication of every member of this department remains as strong as ever."

"Police work is an ever evolving process and we in law enforcement face new challenges every day, the likes of which we have never seen before," Shimsky continued. "Our police officers have to be smarter and more resourceful than ever in order to protect the department from liability while fulfilling our duties and responsibilities and serving the public at the highest standard, all while making sure that we go home safe at the end of every shift."

Township officials expressed their congratulations to the new officers. Mayor John Carpenter told the assembled officers, "We are grateful for your service and protection."

School safety an emphasis

Shimsky specified in his earlier email that, "Emphasis will be placed on school safety, addressing quality of life issues central to Bernards such as traffic and pedestrian safety, better training for officers to shrink the department's exposure to liability, and a focus on eradicating criminal activity from our town."

In the position of Acting Chief, Shimsky has also spoken at a Board of Education meeting, and has been working in tandem with school and municipal officials to further strengthen school security following nationwide concern after the deaths of 17 students and staff members at a Parkland, Fla. high school on Feb. 14.

While a member of the police force, Shimsky also had served as the township's Office of Emergency Management (OEM) coordinator for a decade. In that role, he helped guide the township through its response to Superstorm Sandy in 2012. "I definitely believe that my years as Emergency Management Coordinator has exposed me to facets of the interworkings of our municipal government that I might not have been able to been exposed to," he said prior to the meeting."

"I always thought a career in law enforcement would be exciting opportunity to provide a public service and offer me the ability to help people. The most rewarding has been the ability to solve people's problems and have a sense of a job well done at the end of the day. "

Shimsky already had been appointed as acting police chief in January, after Bobowicz ended his time on the job on Dec. 31. However, due to paid leave time, the former chief officially remained in that position until his retirement became effective on April 1, township officials said.

Shimsky's salary as the new police chief will be $163,000, effective April 1, according to Terri Johnson, the township's Chief Financial Officer. 

Shimsky previously had been appointed deputy chief in January 2017, in anticipation of Bobowicz's retirement following more than 30 years with the township police force.

Shimsky was the department's deputy chief, but upon his promotion, the Township Committee -- which has been following a policy of grooming and promoting from within for municipal positions -- promoted Lt. Michael Voorhees to move up into the position of the new deputy chief.

Those promoted, and their new positions, also include Captain Mark Leopold; Lt. Jon Burger; Sergeant Timothy King, Corporal Steven Matthews, Corporal Alexander McKnight, Corporal Raymond Gizienski, Corporal Robert Herndon, OEM Coordinator Christopher Hurst, and OEM Deputy Coordinator John Neiman, in their new jobs.

"The most important asset in any organization is the people, and we are no exception," Shimsky said in his speech. "We could not exist if were not for the hard working individuals that make up our agency."

One officer leaving department

During the meeting, it was also announced that one member of the force, Det. Bill Seiple, will be resigning to take a position with the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office. Seiple, a veteran who served in Iraq, had started with the department in 2006.

Afterwards, Shimsky said that the township is in the process of seeking an additional officer to replace Seiple's position as the 38th officer on the force.

Somerset County Prosecutor Michael Robertson, a Bernards Township native, and retired Bernards Township officers and police from neighboring municipalities were also present for the meeting, which was followed by a celebration at the Liberty Corner firehouse.

Such promotions are "always a joyous occasion," Robertson said. "This one is particularly special because it's my town."

Other police chiefs and top law enforcement officials in attendance on Tuesday night included retired Bernards Township Chief Tom Kelly, John Fodor of the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office, Chief William Keane of Warren Township, Raritan Borough Chief Ray Nolte, retired Bound Brook Chief Tom White, Long Hill Township Chief Ahmed Naga, retired Bridgewater Township Chief Richard Voorhees, and Tim Fitzgerald, retired from the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office, Shimsky said.

The new officers and those being promoted were sworn in by Township Clerk Denise Szabo.

Shimsky also released bios on the new and promoted officers:

New Hire - Dominick Aboosamara
Bernards Township Police Dispatcher 2007 to 2011
Maryland Transportation Authority Police, 2012 to present
BA, Emergency Management, American Military University

Deputy Chief Mike Voorhees
Start: Feb. 1993
First school resource in Bernards
Patrol Sergeant
Lieutenant – Patrol/Admin
Accreditation Manager
BS, Law and Justice, Trenton State College
MA, Administration and Supervision, Seton Hall University

Captain Mark Leopold
Start: January 1994
Detective Sergeant
Patrol Sergeant
Lieutenant - Detective
BS, Criminal Justice, University of Scranton
MA, Administration and Supervision, Seton Hall University

Lieutenant Jon Burger
Start: November 1998
Kean College PD
Detective Sergeant
Patrol Sergeant
200 Club, PBA and State Chief’s Valor Award recipient
BA, Criminal Justice, John Jay College
MA, Human Resources Training & Development, Seton Hall University

Sergeant Tim King
Start: December 2000
School resource officer
Senior Patrol Officer
USAF - 4 years active duty 
Re-activated after 9/11 served in Washington DC and Saudi Arabia

Corporal Steve Matthews 
Start: December 2002
Traffic Division
Senior Patrol Officer
DARE Officer
BA, Criminal Justice, Kean College

Corporal Alex McKnight
Start: June 2003
Previously officer in Montgomery Township
Traffic Safety Division
Senior Patrol Officer
BA, Business Administration, Bucknell University

Corporal Ray Gizienski
Start: October 2003
Previously New York Police Department
Senior Patrol Officer
BS, Health Care Administration, University of Scranton
MA, Human Resources Training & Development, Seton Hall University

Corporal Rob Herndon
Start: July 1999
Former Bernards Township Police Department dispatcher
US Immigration Officer
Detective – BTPD
Senior Patrol Officer
BS, History and Political Science, Rutgers