CRANFORD, NJ – The Cranford Police Department held its annual awards ceremony at the last Cranford Township Committee meeting.
Police Chief John Wozniak honored police officers who went above and beyond the call of duty within the last year. Friends and family of the honored officers were in attendance for the ceremony.
The police officers honored are as follows:
Patrolman John Colineri was on his way to lunch when he heard an alleged burglary on the radio. En route to the site, Colineri spotted an individual who matched the suspect’s description and approached, but the suspect fled. Colineri chased the subject on foot through several backyards and over two fences before finally tackling the suspect on the front lawn of a Roselle home. At headquarters, the suspect was found with jewelry and other personal belongings that he had stolen from a Cranford home. The individual was remanded to Union County Jail in lieu of $15,000 bail.
“Officer Colineri could have easily continued his meal break,” Wozniak said. “Instead, he chose to respond. His dedication to his fellow officers and the Cranford Police Department is exemplary.”
Patrolman Daniel Donnerstag conducted a motor vehicle stop last May, during which he detected raw marijuana odor from the vehicle. Donnerstag removed both passengers from the vehicle, locating marijuana and suspected “Molly” on the driver. While searching the car, Donnerstag confiscated a fully loaded gun and a large amount of suspected marijuana in packaging material. He handcuffed both passengers, who were later transported to Union County Jail and held on a $100,000 bail with no 10 percent. The gun in the car was found to be stolen out of Parsippany.
“It calms me when I read the reports on these incidents and see how our officers remain diligent and professional, work together as a team, don’t leave any stone unturned and conclude a threatening manner successfully and safely,” Wozniak said.
Throughout 2016, a string of car burglaries took place in Cranford and surrounding towns. One September morning, Detective Spencer Durkin was assigned to investigate several car burglaries that took place overnight, which allowed to suspect to flee. Durkin obtained a partial fingerprint from one of the cars, which revealed a suspect whose last known address was in Florida.
Durkin, with the assistance of Clark and Roselle Police Departments, traced the suspect to an address in Roselle. In November, the unit successfully took the suspect into custody. A search of the suspect’s room revealed cell phones, GPS devices and computers. Durkin interviewed the suspect and obtained a full confession, along with the implication of others. More than 60 burglaries that took place in the county were cleared and the stolen items were returned to the victims. The suspect was remanded to Union County Jail with bail set at $10,000.
“Detective Durkin represented the Cranford Police Department well and improved the quality of life for residents of our town,” Wozniak said.
In December, Patrolmen Brian Lopez and Ryan Gerrity were called to a suspicious vehicle after a resident said he or she was verbally assaulted by the vehicle’s occupant. Upon the officers’ arrival, the passenger exited the vehicle, yelling about the neighbor’s harassing him. He claimed he was the father of the resident of the house.
Relying on judgment and instinct, the officers investigated further and spoke to the homeowner. Lopez discovered the individual was the father of the homeowner but was listed as an emotionally disturbed person missing from Pennsylvania. The homeowner said he was not meant to be there. The officers secured the individual in handcuffs and searched the vehicle. They found a loaded shotgun with three additional boxes of ammunition. It was later confirmed that the suspect suffers from schizophrenia and had been off his medications for some time.
“This case could have very well turned into a tragedy and, as Chief of Police, my worst nightmare,” Wozniak said. “Because of Officer Lopez and Officer Gerrity’s ability to recognize a problem and follow their instincts, there is no doubt in my mind that a tragedy was averted.”
Lastly, Detective Timothy O’Brien, Patrolman John Rattigan, and Patrolman James Knight were awarded for finding and apprehending five suspects who beat a Cranford resident and stole his wallet. Rattigan quickly developed suspects and observed suspicious behavior at 3 a.m. on the night of the robbery by such suspects. During that time, an unknown vehicle was observed but Rattigan could not get the license plate number from his vantage point.
O’Brien was assigned the case. The robbery victim soon became a victim of fraud as the suspects used his credit cards. O’Brien found evidence connecting five young men to the crime, but needed someone to corroborate the information. His information was passed to Knight in an attempt to identify the unidentified vehicle.
Knight searched social media and databases to identify the car. He matched distinguishing marks from the suspected vehicle to one parked on a side street. Only three days after the crime, O’Brien secured 2nd degree robbery charges on the five men. He recorded video confessions to the crime and bail was set at $10,000 for each suspect.
“Your hard work, dedication, professionalism and relentless pursuit of justice allowed this investigation to come to a quick and successful conclusion,” Wozniak said.
All officers except for Lopez were in attendance for the ceremony. Other members of the department were in the audience and lined the walls of the township committee meeting room.
"I appreciate the fact that you go into the unknown every shift," Wozniak said. "You make me proud. Keep up the good work and most importantly, be careful out there."