BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Paul Payne is now the permanent police chief in Bridgewater Township.

The town council voted unanimously Monday to remove the “acting” tag from Payne’s title, after he had been appointed on an interim basis by former mayor Dan Hayes late last year to replace the retiring Al Nicaretta.

“I’m thrilled to announce Paul Payne as my recommendation,” said Mayor Matthew Moench before the council cast its vote of approval.

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Moench explained the process that the administration had gone through to select the new chief out of the three individuals who had applied, including Payne. The first part consisted of a written examination, followed by an interview with an outside organization, which involved a pair of consultants along with township administrator Michael Pappas.

The final stage had been an interview with the mayor by phone.

“Bridgewater was blessed to have three very competent candidates,” said Moench.

Payne has served in the Bridgewater Police Department for 22 years, beginning as an officer in 1997, according to a township news release. He served in the United States Marine Corps as a military police officer prior to joining Bridgewater’s police force.

The mayor explained that there had been no honeymoon period for Payne as the acting chief in the last half year, particularly due to the coronavirus that has plagued the U.S. since March. He said that Payne has implemented the Pitman scheduling model, which helped ease the burden on a municipal budget already stressed by COVID-19.

According to a township news release from January, when the schedule change was effected by Moench and Payne, each police officer began working a "two-on, two-off; three-on, three-off" schedule, with each shift 12 hours in length.

Besides the ongoing pandemic, Payne has also been at the helm during a period of unrest in America, stemming from public protests following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota in late May. Payne has also presided over more recent local matters, including both a drowning and a shooting in Bridgewater, in what Moench said is generally a safe and quiet town.

Moench added that Payne has handled his duties with “competency and poise” over the last six months. He also said Payne has shared his vision of the police department, engaged the Bridgewater community and been present at many council meetings, even when he had not been required to attend.

Payne also presided over a round of police promotions at a council meeting earlier this year.

“We, as a community, are lucky to have such a dedicated public servant and law enforcement official leading our group of first-class police officers,” said Moench in a prepared statement. “I look forward to continuing our work together to keep Bridgewater a safe place to live.”

All five council members voted in the affirmative to make Payne’s seat permanent.

“I’m sure he will do a fantastic job,” said vice president Filipe Pedroso, who added that he wishes Payne all the best.

Payne himself was listening in on the council’s virtual meeting on Monday, and expressed his gratitude to the council.

“Thank you to the mayor and council for this opportunity,” he said.

He said he wants to make the township better for all those living in Bridgewater, and also for all those visiting here, including programs to benefit the community.

“Thank you for the opportunity,” he said.

Payne was due to be sworn in officially in a public outdoor ceremony Wednesday at 4:30 p.m., which would be moved indoors in case of inclement weather.

“I have already had the privilege of running the agency during some challenging times as the acting chief, and my success would not have been possible if not for my fellow supervisors and officers in the agency,” said Payne. “As the next chief of police, I have been given an invitation to lead people and to make a difference. I will take the opportunity this new position has given me to try to improve individual lives, foster a great working environment and develop even deeper ties to our community.”

Moench added that there are several other appointments to come in the police department over the next few weeks, including two acting captains.

The council also approved another resolution that evening that authorized the execution of a collective bargaining agreement between the township and the Bridgewater Township Police Benevolent Association (PBA) Local No. 174. The five-year agreement is to be effective from Jan. 1, 2019 through Dec. 31, 2023.

“We worked very hard with the PBA,” said Moench. “There were a lot of discussions and negotiations.”

He added that the police have deferred raises this year, which will help the township “get through a tough year,” and also said that the contract both values officers and respects taxpayers.

Councilman Michael Kirsh said the contract is a positive for all parties involved, while Pedroso said that residents “should be proud of their police department for its professionalism and respect,” with officers putting their lives on the line while also acting as first responders and role models.

“They really are top-notch,” said Pedroso. “I thank them for their service to our community.”

Check the August issue of The BReeze, out at the end of July, for a full interview with Chief Payne on his appointment!