By CHRISTINE BARCIA
Growth in the law enforcement industry is on the upswing nationwide, and New Jersey leads the country in the average rate of pay for police officers.
The police profession is projected to grow about 5 percent through 2022, and in New Jersey, an increase of 700 new police and sheriff’s patrol officer jobs each year is predicted during that time frame, according to Projections Central, a state occupation projections website.
Salaries for police officers in the state are the highest in the nation, with the average annual salary at $88,530, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (USBLS), May 2014. The average annual police officer salary in United States is $59,560, reported the USBLS.
Dangers associated with the job and the effectiveness of unions give rise to high salaries, according to a 2015 article by The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that focuses on the American criminal justice system.
“Gaining entry into a career in law enforcement is very competitive as thousands of individuals take the exams required to be a police officer. Police work is like no other job in that with law enforcement, people take a shot at it. It’s an outside dream,” said Administration Commander, South Brunswick Police Department, Captain James Ryan.
That dream took hold of Patrolman Jorge Torres, a Red Bank police officer, shortly after high school. But it would be 12 more years before the dream turned into a reality.
“I went to culinary school, got married and had a family. I was a chef for 12 years,” said Torres, an eight-year veteran of the Red Bank Police Department.
When Torres set his sights on his dream, he was able to choose from a few different paths available to enter law enforcement.
There are three tracks to becoming a police officer in New Jersey.
The first option, known as the civil service route, is through the New Jersey Department of Personnel. The agency administers entry level testing for about half of the law enforcement agencies in the state.
“The state gives a test, scores it, and a list is given to municipalities. Qualified candidates are given an interview,” said Ryan.
Municipalities such as North Brunswick and New Brunswick, Ryan said, tend to use the civil service examination.
“Everything is established at the state level. It takes out the administrative aspect for towns,” Ryan said.
Other municipalities that rely on the civil service exam include Freehold Borough, Freehold Township, Holmdel, Long Branch, Woodbridge and Middletown.
“It’s a fair way to administer the test. There are no inconsistencies,” said Middletown Police Deputy Chief Steve Dollinger.
The test is usually administered in the spring. Once the exams are graded, lists are returned to the agencies ranking applicants by score.
Patrolman Ricardo Cruz, who has worked for the Middletown Police Department for about four years, took the New Jersey civil service exam after college and eight years of service in the United States Coast Guard.
“I was an officer in the Coast Guard and it spiked my interest in law enforcement,” Cruz said.
According to Cruz, who is also a LEAD (Law Enforcement Against Drugs) officer, his daily patrol is “different every day.”
“As a patrolman, you have a big impact on the public and the community,” Cruz said.
The Chief’s Agency Track is a second way to enter law enforcement in the Garden State. For agencies that do not utilize the New Jersey Department of Personnel, these departments administer entry level testing themselves. The New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police administers many of these exams.
“In the non-civil-service route, departments set their own standards, such as college degree requirements. An outside vendor gives the test. This is used in smaller and more suburban towns,” Ryan said.
Receiving results from the non-civil-service written exam is shorter, usually three to five days, than that of the results from the civil service exam, as the state government takes longer to produce results, according to Ryan.
Testing in the chief’s agency track is typically not done on a regular basis, instead it is done when departments are hiring. Potential candidates have to look out for test announcements.
Municipalities that do not rely on the civil service exam include Colts Neck, Eatontown, Edison, Manalapan and Howell.
Patrolman Ross Dessel of the Manalapan Police Department took the chief’s test about 17 years ago when he joined the department after becoming a police explorer, a program that allows young adults to consider law enforcement by working with police officers.
“I started as a police explorer. I enjoyed doing that — working with the local police on traffic and security. It just clicked,” Dessel said.
His day starts with a briefing about the previous two shifts, then Dessel heads out to his patrol car and begins to drive around his designated area.
“Motor vehicle violations, alarms, first aid, burglary — you never know what you are going to get. A lot more is going on than just driving,” Dessel said.
In both the civil and non-civil tracks, trainees are required to attend a police academy.
The Police Training Commission (PTC) is the regulatory body for police academies in New Jersey, according to Larry Evans, PTC administrator.
“Monmouth County and Ocean County have police academies. Middlesex County does not,” Evans said.
In New Jersey, roughly half of the law enforcement agencies fall under the civil service regulations, while the other half hire according to local ordinance or regulation, stated the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police website.
Examinations cover skills such as reading and writing, mathematics, problem solving and reasoning.
A third option to enter law enforcement is through the alternate route program, whereby an applicant may apply directly to the police academy. If accepted, he or she is permitted to attend that academy at his or her own expense. If completed, the applicant will have all of the necessary certifications to become a police officer in New Jersey, but there is no guarantee of employment with this option. Graduates are unemployed until they find a job.
“With the alternate route, you put yourself through it (the police academy) and find out where you want to be,” Ryan said.
Torres took the alternate route and went through the Essex County Police Academy. After applying to 80 police departments, he was interviewed by five departments before accepting an offer.
“The beauty of being a ‘road cop’ is that it changes every day. I never know what I am going to confront, like a high-adrenaline call,” Torres said.
Police officers, Torres said, can never become complacent.
“You go from zero to 60 in any given moment. You have to prepare for that mentally and physically,” Torres said.
In 2015, 104 police officer graduates went through the alternate route program, according to data from the Police Training Commission.
For candidates who are interested in working for a specific department, contacting the agency directly and finding out the requirements and process for applying for a position is recommended. Every police department in New Jersey has its own individual requirements for police officers, but there are some basic requirements that apply to all cops in the state.
All applicants to law enforcement agencies in New Jersey must be United States citizens over the age of 18 and under the age of 35. (New Jersey State Police Officer candidates must be over the age of 21 at the time of the application.) They must be able to read, write and speak English and be of good moral character and with no convictions of any criminal offense. Candidates must have a high school diploma. (New Jersey State Police Officer candidates must also possess a bachelor’s degree, an associate degree or 60 college semester hours plus two years of military experience.) All candidates for law enforcement in New Jersey must comply with certain required exams and background clearance, including a written examination, a physical fitness test, a background investigation, including a fingerprint and criminal history check, a medical and psychological exam and an in-person interview.
In 2014, the state of New Jersey reported 22,200 police and sheriff’s patrol officers, according to the USBLS.
Poem by H.G. Hartley of Jackson (1969)
Dedicated To My Brothers
Search for Identity
Maybe you can help me friend, for I don’t know who I am
I know you see me everyday, so it’s hard to understand
I’ve counseled your young, helped your old, and watched you pass away
And kept your home and family safe, I do this night and day
I’ve helped you with your problems, when I couldn’t solve my own
And just didn’t think to look for — the thanks you’ve never shown
To serve you is my only goal and pride my only wealth
Yet you criticize my motives when I won’t help you kill yourself
It’s not that you don’t want to care, it’s just that you don’t bother
That a violent act, or a careless hand, leaves my child without a father
So maybe you can help me friend, for I don’t know who I am
Cause I lost all my identity, when this working day began
So walk with me my friend a while and maybe we can find
A proper name to give me that will ease my troubled mind
Come walk with me through shadows dark, where angels fear to tread
But watch that doorway when we pass, where fate may find us dead
I notice friend that you hesitate — to help me in my search
Well go back then to security, of family friends and church
And thanks to you, now I have a name — and tho’ the hurt is big
It’s just one more thing to carry friend — this name you gave me …”Pig”
So look back now and see my face, this smile will never stop
Cause I know when your life’s at stake … that’s when you’ll call me “Cop.”