LIVINGSTON, NJ — After serving on the Livingston Police Department (LPD) for 25 years and being an instrumental member of the Community Policing Unit (CPU) since 2008, Livingston Police Officer Gary Mankowitz retired from the LPD last week.
As Livingston’s first CPU officer, Mankowitz has been an integral part of the Livingston community and said he is grateful to have made so many long-lasting relationships both within and outside of the department. He added that he is going to miss all of the LPD officers and the sense of family he felt while working with them.
“The residents of this town are very, very fortunate to have this police department,” said Mankowitz. “Being a police officer is so rewarding and the fact that you’re out there helping people is the most incredible feeling you can get. I don’t know of any more rewarding job except for fire fighting and first aid squad—any of these public service jobs are very fulfilling and I don’t know how more people don’t get involved in them.”
Mankowitz began his law-enforcement career as a police explorer at the age of 14 in Aberdeen Township before becoming a member of the EMT/First Aid Squad until the age of 18. He continued to work in Aberdeen as a volunteer fire fighter/inspector and then as a police dispatcher before transferring to Livingston in 1992.
When Craig Handschuch became the Livingston police chief in 2008, he wanted to build a stronger relationship between the community and the police department and knew he could count on Mankowitz to head the newly formed Community Policing Unit. Handschuch said Mankowitz immediately began to exceed his expectations, and ultimately had to add two more CPU officers as tasks continued to grow.
“He was very dedicated to this new position and was constantly coming up with new ideas to build a stronger bridge with the township,” said Handschuch. “It was not unusual for Gary to call or text me day or night, on weekends or when he was on vacation to keep me updated on the unit’s progress or with new ideas we could institute.”
Mankowitz said one of the best CPU programs is Operation Take Back, which is a statewide initiative to collect unused, unwanted and expired medicines. Twice a week, the Livingston CPU officers empty a drug-collection box located in the LPD lobby and are encouraged by what they find.
“Since 2010, we’ve collected over 7400 pounds of various medications and over-the-counter prescriptions,” said Mankowitz. “Just knowing that those are off the street and the kids can’t get to them or somebody can’t use them for the wrong reason— it’s just a great sense every time that you empty that box knowing you might have saved someone’s life.”
Other major CPU projects Mankowitz helped to manage include senior citizen programs, like Blue Star and Project Lifesaver, and the Law Enforcement Against Drugs (LEAD) program, which is an evidence-based anti-drug, violence and bullying curriculum that replaced the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program and is now taught to sixth graders at Mt. Pleasant Middle School. He also enjoyed teaching 10th graders about the dangers of driving under the influence and 9th graders about the dangers of prescription and over-the-counter prescription drugs.
“It’s been wonderful dealing with the kids all these years,” he said. “Between touring headquarters, doing cyber bullying and Internet safety at the schools, bringing McGruff to the schools—it’s all just to see the kids really learning something and feeling like you’re making a difference.”
As a longtime member of the Livingston Municipal Alliance Committee (LMAC), Mankowitz also enjoyed partnering with LMAC on projects like Red Ribbon Week and other programs that help educate Livingston’s children and keep them safe.
Handschuch was proud to say that Mankowitz has been so successful with the Livingston CPU that he has since helped other police departments develop community policing units of their own. In fact, Mankowitz even shared his expertise with the Aruba Police Department when he instructed a special course on crime prevention and community policing.
“He is well-known throughout the state and has received numerous awards and accolades from his colleagues in law enforcement,” said Handschuch.
Mankowitz specifically acknowledged the work of his nine-year partner Officer Joy Klapal, current CPU Officer Kevin Mullaney, retired officer Stan Valles and Detective Ralph Kolbusz for making the CPU what it is today.
“The community policing aspect of [the LPD] is phenomenal,” said Mankowitz. “With everything that’s going on today, we can’t have enough community policing officers here. I’m proud of everything the community police officers do here as well as all the officers on the road.”
In addition to career highlights like being a member of the Essex/Union Auto Theft Task Force and serving as a Field Training Officer, where Mankowitz especially loved teaching new officers how to stay safe on the job, another major highlight of his career over the last ten years has been Livingston’s annual National Night Out (NNO) event.
The national initiative to promote police-community relationships is approaching its tenth year in Livingston. Mankowitz was proud to say that NNO has become one of the biggest events in town thanks to the hundreds of people who continue to attend the event each summer and the sponsors who support it.
“I was going to retire five years ago, but it’s been so hard to leave because of the connections in town,” said Mankowitz. “Without the people in town, the businesses that support us, and sponsors like Regal Bank and Saint Barnabas who donate [to NNO] every year, we wouldn’t be able to function. The participation from everyone who volunteers and supports us is amazing and you become like family.”
Mankowitz also remembered being featured in an HBO commercial for opioid abuse called “This Drug May Kill You,” an NJTV News clip on a proposed bill to allow police to check cell phones at the scene of an accident, and another NJTV News clip on the disposing of unwanted prescription drugs. The department was also recently filmed for the Tribeca Film Festival.
This was an exciting experience for Mankowitz because it allowed him to show some of his best qualities, which include being fair and compassionate toward others while also working to keep the community safe.
“One thing that I think is my best aspect is being fair,” he said. “I believe everybody is innocent until proven guilty and I treat people the way I want be treated. And that’s really the community-policing philosophy—you have to look at everything like you’re dealing with your family.”
Now in his first official week of retirement, Mankowitz said his wife, Tracy, and his 27-year-old son, Kyle, are excited to have him home. However, he and his family will continue to be involved in LPD events like NNO, the annual Police Expo at the Livingston Mall and other activities.
Although nothing is set in stone, Mankowitz said he hopes to continue his passion for public safety and crime prevention through a potential position with Creative Safety Products, a safety-equipment supplier located in South Hackensack and 18 states throughout the country.
Creative Safety Products has worked with the LPD in the past to create its crime-prevention tip book, which can be seen throughout the community. Mankowitz said working with Creative Safety Products would also allow him to continue his other great passion, which is networking.
“No one person or one department can solve a problem,” Mankowitz said of the importance of networking. “It takes everybody to work together throughout the state and you have to build these relationships. Pretty much, I feel like I’m going be continuing my passion, just not as a cop.”
He will also continue to serve as the president of the Essex County Crime Prevention Officers Association, where he has served as president for eight years.
“[Mankowitz] will be truly missed by me everyday,” said Handschuch. “However, I know he will not be far and will stayed involved as a volunteer as we move forward.”
As Mankowitz packed up his office on Nov. 30, members of the LPD surprised him with cake and conversation at the department. Mankowitz said it was heartwarming to see so many of the men and women he has worked with over the last 25 years come by on his final day to see him off.