To the Editor:
The tragic death of George Floyd was senseless and shameful and anyone with a conscious and respects the dignity and sacredness of life knows that what took place was unconscionable. It should have and could have been prevented and the officer and officers complicit in it will be brought to justice and held accountable. You would be hard-pressed to find any member of law enforcement who faithfully serves to disagree. In light of this and in spite of it, the one thing as a community we can and should appreciate has been the consistent professionalism and performance of our police department. I write this with more of a detailed knowledge than most as a former Mayor and longtime resident of Chatham Township.
To many who will read this I am merely pointing out the obvious, but whether you have been here for 30 years or more or 3 years or less, you should know that the Chatham Township Police Department over that time has never been guilty of excessive force or any type of police brutality. We live in an area of relatively low crime, but that is not to say that it hasn’t been free of crime and at times officers have had to deal with intense situations. The police brutality statistic says much, but is only a fraction about our police department.
The Department biennially retakes and attests to their Code of Ethics. Part of that code reads as follows: I will enforce the law courteously and appropriately without fear or favor, malice or ill will, never employing unnecessary force or violence and never accepting gratuities.
In 2013 the Chatham Township Police Department voluntarily, with the support of the administration, initiated the arduous task of accreditation by the NJ State Association Chiefs of Police. The process looks into every aspect of the department and it took two years to complete, receiving full accreditation in 2015. The Department was reaccredited in 2018.
Our Community Policing initiative started in 2009 has been a huge success, allowing our officers to interact directly and indirectly through email communications in different neighborhoods and an opportunity to develop personal relationships with our residents, both young and old. Our officers are active in our schools getting a chance to interact and know our young adults and can be found at block parties and almost every event in town. There are numerous stories, letters and testimonials pointing out their assistance and professionalism.
That is not to say however that over the years there haven’t been some officers who didn’t live up to the expectations, the Code of Ethics or were a detriment to the morale of the department. To the credit of the leadership of the Department, fellow officers and elected officials’ taking decisive, fair and firm action those individuals were removed from duty and the department. That too has allowed our police department to stay focused on its mission and avoid internal conflict.
In early March when the COVID-19 virus was escalating rapidly we knew that the first order of business was to protect our protectors because we knew that if we lost our first responders we would expose ourselves to a much worse situation. We need to do that now as well. Every day when law enforcement officials put on the uniform it comes with a certain amount of inherent stress and at times of elevated unrest, as we find ourselves now, that stress gets compounded. Whether young or old, if you have lived here for long or short or spent your childhood growing up here, as citizens of this community we should be conscious not to place our police officers in the middle of unnecessary or manufactured conflict that raises tension. Our political leaders should examine laws they pass so as to not put our officers into the middle of controversy, as they have an obligation to uphold the laws, good or bad, that governing bodies implement. It’s a tough job, one that has to be carried out with restraint at times, with negotiation skills at others, and if necessary, to save lives with lethal force. Managing those lines takes a great deal of training, experience, good judgement and professionalism often in the face of known or unknown danger.
Chatham Township has consistently been ranked as one of the safest towns in New Jersey as well as one of the best towns to live. That doesn’t happen without a police department, but it does happen with a professional one that allows our community to thrive and our children to flourish in a safe school and community environment.
Law and order are essential to a functioning community allowing everyone to enjoy the blessings of freedom. Do we need to continue to work to strive for a more perfect union, absolutely. We will never do it however, without mutual respect and appreciation for those that have taken an oath and have done their duty honorably to Protect and Serve. If we cast dispersions on those men and woman now and allow them to be threatened then we are all threatened.
In the midst of a gamut of emotions of grief, sadness, anger and turmoil, I want to extend a thank you to the Chatham Township Police Department for your compassion, your care and your professionalism. In the 30 years that I have been a resident here, I am proud to say that you have done it well. I know the overwhelming majority of our community share those same sentiments and I hope they will join me in continuing to extend that support to you as they have always done throughout the years.
God Bless you all,