NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ -- Theresa Gazaway will take the reins of the New Providence Police Department when she is sworn in as its Chief on Friday, May 1. She will be the seventh police chief in the history of the borough and its first female chief.
There have been a lot of firsts in Gazaway's life and being sworn in during the COVID-19 Pandemic is another one. She said, "because of the "current situation, I will have only my daughter there, holding the Bible for me. The borough's newest Patrolman, Gregory Miller, will also be sworn in and I would like to congratulate him on his new role, he is currently a Special Law Enforcement Officer II with us."
Gazaway, who was born in Rhode Island, was raised and still lives in New Providence. She said, "I will always be a Pioneer at heart. I still have the same best friends that I had in high school, I have just added a few more that I met through work and my New Providence 'mom' groups."
She and her husband Ron have been married for almost 23 years. Gazaway said, "He has always been my biggest supporter and I feel fortunate because, as a retired police officer, he understands the stressors of my job."
Her son is graduating from Roger Williams University in a few short weeks and will be headed to D.C. to take a field engineering position with a large construction firm. "He has wrestled since he was 8-years-old and the sport has always been a big part of our family life. He is smart, disciplined and has a great work ethic," she said.
Her daughter, whom Gazaway said is "smart, compassionate and kind," is studying video film production at Raritan Valley Community College, which is where Gazaway and her husband first met.
TAPinto New Providence asked Gazaway about her road from college student to police officer to police chief. Below are the questions and her answers.
How and when did you decide you wanted to be a police officer?
Growing up I always had great respect for police officers and admired the way they protected those who could not protect themselves. Although I considered a few different paths during my college years, I knew that being a police officer would prove to be the most meaningful career choice.
What did you do to make that happen?
I kept myself in good physical shape and stayed out of trouble. In the spring of 1995, I applied to the John H. Stamler Police Academy and was accepted into their Alternate Route Program.
Who hired you in 1995?
Chief James Venezia Jr. (not to be confused with his father, Chief James Venezia Sr.) hired me. I remember during one of our early conversations he asked me, where do I see myself in five years, and then "Where do you see yourself ultimately?" I don't quite remember what I said regarding the five-year mark, but he never let me live down what I said for where I ultimately saw myself. I told him that I see myself sitting in his chair. Little did I know when I was a young woman applying for the position what that chair meant. The meaning of that chair for me has changed significantly over the course of my career and, now that I will be sitting in that chair, I realize what a huge responsibility that chair is -- I am responsible for the safety of the community and of all my personnel. I take this oath very seriously and consider it an honor to serve in this position.
Currently, the department is facing some challenging times. I, personally, never thought a virus would ever bring about the most changes l would ever see in my career. I see the stress and worry on the officers' faces, not for themselves, but worried they may bring something home to their families. Despite all this, they still go out and help people with the same empathy and compassion they always have. I am so proud of them.
When you were named a probationary patrol officer in 1995, did you aspire to be a police chief?
Not particularly, I did say that during my interview because I figured that was the right answer. The most important thing to me has always been about doing my best, no matter what assignment I am given.
Who were your role models?
Definitely my family. My Dad is the happiest person I know, my Mom the strongest woman I have ever met (she actually wrote in her yearbook that she wanted to be a police officer but, when told she would have to sit behind a desk, she chose to be a nurse instead).
As the youngest of six children, I have always looked up to my siblings as well. They are all amazingly talented, good people.
Who were your mentors?
I worked very hard in my career. I was very fortunate and had a lot of strong mentors.
I was fortunate to learn the administrative side of law enforcement early on in my career when Chief Marvin assigned me the task of getting our agency accredited. It was a very difficult, time-consuming process but I learned a lot about best practices in law enforcement. Throughout my career I have had many mentors and amazing co-workers. They have all taught me different things, and I am grateful for all of them.
What courses have you taken since joining the force?
I am a big proponent of training and believe we should never stop developing new skills. I have attended more than 5,000 hours of training over the course of my career. The courses that have helped prepare me best for the Chief’s position are the FBI Executive Training, The NJ State Chiefs of Police Executive Institute and various Rodger’s Group police leadership courses.
What was your favorite course?
The courses I enjoyed most were the ones that allowed me to become a bigger part of our youth programs. When D/C Torre began the DARE program here, he sent me to the Instructor training which was a two- week course run by NJ State Police. I also really enjoyed the Police and Teens Together training, and I am still involved in the program.
Did you expect to be promoted to chief when Chief Buccelli retired?
I have learned never to expect anything or take anything for granted. Lt. Henn and Lt. Drown are both strong leaders within our organization who are also very capable and qualified for this position.
When did you find out you would be the borough's next police chief?
The Chief had announced his retirement around the second week of February. I knew that I would receive strong consideration, but I wasn’t officially offered the position until the beginning of April.
What will you miss most about not having Chief Buccelli around?
I will miss the sounding board that I have come to depend on and all those years of experience that he takes with him. I want to congratulate him on over 40 years of dedicated service and wish him all the best in retirement.
What was your favorite part of being a police officer?
I love being out in the community and bringing resolutions to difficult situations. I genuinely love to be the person who can make a difference in someone else’s life or even just that day.
What was the hardest part of being a police officer?
There were some situations that I could not fix. It does not matter where you work, police officers see difficult situations. It is extremely hard to watch people struggling and, despite your best effort, you cannot make their circumstances better.
What has changed about policing in the past 25 years?
I have seen changes in just about every aspect of police work. There were no computers in the cars when I started, and we still wrote all of our reports by hand. Technology is the one thing that is constantly changing for us and that, I feel, is important to keep current on. The one thing that has not changed is our mission to protect and serve the community.
What are your goals as Police Chief?
To provide New Providence residents with the best level of service we can deliver while providing training, guidance and a safe working environment for our personnel.
Will there be substantial changes in the way the department is run?
I do not plan on making any major procedural changes within the first couple months. I will spend this time inspecting and analyzing our current policies, procedures and practices. I plan on meeting with all personnel and will be seeking their input into the development of both short- and long-term goals for our agency.
What else would you like to say?
I love this community and the way the entire borough works together for the good of the town. My fellow officers, the Mayor and Council, Rescue Squad, Fire Department, Department of Public Works, Mountain Valley Communications and all the other borough employees are truly dedicated to making New Providence the best place to live and work.
The neighboring police agencies have also been great. At the start of this pandemic Berkeley Heights Police Chief DiPasquale and his administration reached out to me as well as Captain Bartolotti and members of the Summit Police Administration just to let me know that they are available to offer assistance should we need it.
Lastly, I think it is important to note that while I am the first female Chief in New Providence there were and are other female heads of police agencies that led the way for me in Union County.