SOMERSET, NJ – Last night, the Franklin Township Council swore in the police department’s first African American captain, Sean Hebbon, making him the first Black officer to attain a rank higher than a sergeant in more than 20 years.
Alongside Hebbon, who was previously a sergeant, Phillip Rizzo and Brian Regan – both lieutenants before promotion – were also sworn in at the meeting. The swearing-in of the three new captains solidifies the shift in the department’s command structure following its reorganization by the council last year.
“It’s my goal to not let you guys down, to be an example and to take Franklin to yet another level and grow more and see what this thing can do,” Hebbon said in his remarks to the council.
Hebbon also leads the department’s new Community Relations Bureau that’s focused on building strong bonds between cops and the community through direct involvement and a permanent headquarters at 935 Hamilton St.
Before the township reshuffled the department following the abrupt departure of former Chief Richard Grammar and former Capt. Gregory Borlan, command staff consisted of a chief of police, deputy chief of police and one captain. With the new command structure in place, Rizzo, Hebbon and Regan are the department’s highest-ranked officers under Quovella Spruill, the township’s first civilian public safety director.
I’m honored to have these three men as part of my command staff and I’m excited to begin this new era in the Franklin Township Police department,” said Spruill.
Councilman James Vassanella welcomed the shift in command staff structure, saying the three men would prove invaluable in their new roles.
“I’m glad we have three now. When we changed the structure of our police administration last year .. the role of captain became an even more important role and I am happy and proud to see these three people promoted to that rank to help guide our police force going forward,” he said.
State Assemblyman Joe Danielson joined that council’s virtual meeting to congratulate the three officers and to mark the historic occasion for the department.
“It’s generational that we promoted a man of color above the rank of sergeant for the first time. It could have happened sooner, but better late than never,” Danielson said. “I knew we had a vision that was doable to have a black female police director and black men and women moving up the ranks without limit … Now boys and girls of all ages can look at our leadership ranks and know there is no limit. That is probably one of the most important things to young people: to know there is opportunity, there is equity and equality and they’re not limited by the color of their skin, especially within a department as important as law enforcement.”
All three men redoubled their commitment to the township and its residents while addressing the council after taking their oaths. They acknowledged the challenges facing policing nationwide but said that in Franklin they can set a new standard.
“It’s not going to be an easy task, but it’s going to be something that we can achieve together,” Regan said.
Councilwoman Crystal Pruitt praised the department’s work towards diversifying its leadership, saying that it will improve the culture throughout public safety.
“Looking at policing now and having conversations about policing, especially in marginalized communities, in Black and Brown communities, I think it’s a really good step in the right direction,” she said. “When we look at policing we have to look at the culture and culture isn’t just the individuals on the street, culture also comes from the top.”
Despite moving in the right direction, Councilman Sivaraman “Ram” Anbarasan noted that the rank and file of the department still has work to do in becoming more representative of the township’s population.
“If you look at our population, 62% of our population are minorities … but the representation at the department is not at that level,” he said.
Anbarasan hopes to address the disparity through a funding stream he announced last night that will go to promoting and supporting minority recruitment in Franklin’s police department.
“I made it one of my goals to improve the minority recruitment in our public safety department … to that effect I will create a funding stream to help recruitment in terms of providing some expenses for minority recruitment efforts, scholarships to get them in the academy with a promise to join our PD, or whatever that may be,” he said.
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