It was a bittersweet moment for Police Chief Nicholas Sutter and the Princeton Council on Sept. 14, as municipal officials congratulated Sutter on his impending retirement and honored his tenure as the first police chief of the consolidated Princeton Police Department.
Sutter, whose retirement takes effect Oct. 1, joined the former Princeton Borough Police Department in 1995. He was named chief of the consolidated Princeton Police Department in 2014, which was created when the former Princeton Borough and the former Princeton Township and their respective police departments merged in 2013.
Mayor Liz Lempert praised Sutter for his role in leading the newly re-constituted Princeton Police Department through consolidation “as well as anyone could hope or imagine.” The values of the Princeton Police Department – respect and empathy – are a credit to Sutter and his leadership, she said.
Lempert presented Sutter with a mayoral proclamation in recognition of his 27 years as a police officer. It stated that “As a transformative leader, (Sutter) leaves behind a department that is more diverse, more community oriented, more progressive and better equipped to face today’s challenges and those of the future.”
Sutter also was presented with a proclamation from the State Legislature by state Senator Christopher “Kip” Bateman and Assemblymen Roy Freiman and Andrew Zwicker of the 16th Legislative District (Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset).
Current and former Princeton Council members also weighed in on Sutter’s retirement, including former Princeton Council members Heather Howard and Lance Liverman. Both served as police commissioners during their tenure on the post-consolidation Princeton Council.
Howard reeled off a list of Sutter’s achievements within the Princeton Police Department, including his embrace of former President Barack Obama’s 21st century police reforms. She also pointed to his work with the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union on police directives related to immigration, which clarified the role of local law enforcement and “went a long way toward building bridges” with Princeton’s Latinx community.
“At a time when nationally we have seen the proliferation of corrosive practices and the erosion of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve, I am so proud of the police department’s groundbreaking work,” Howard said.
“The future of the Princeton Police Department is bright because of Chief Sutter’s work to create this culture of service and respect,” she said.
Liverman said that no matter what the council asked of Sutter – from extra details in his monthly police reports to extra community protection and to creating a more diverse Police Department – “the chief was there.” Sutter exemplifies what a fine police officer and police chief should look like, he said.
On a personal note, Liverman said, Sutter was “there for me” when he was involved in a car crash that resulted in his being charged with driving while intoxicated. The accident did not occur in Princeton. Liverman praised Sutter for his fairness, kindness and loyalty, and added that Sutter deserved a rest.
Current Princeton Councilwoman Leticia Fraga said that “for every single word (that has been said about Sutter), I say ‘Ditto.’ ”
Fraga recalled her first encounters with Sutter, when she served on a Human Services Commission subcommittee on immigration. She said she was impressed with his heartfelt empathy for others, which has gone a long way toward building trust in the community.
Councilman Dwaine Williamson also praised Sutter. In these days and times when police departments are under more scrutiny, it’s nice to know that Sutter did not wait for protests to create a forward-looking Princeton Police Department, he said.
In response, Sutter thanked the Princeton Council and said he felt undeserving of the praise. It is getting more difficult each day as his last day as a police officer and police chief draws closer, he said. Princeton will always be in his heart, he said, noting that he has spent virtually all of his adult life and career in the town.
Sutter said his 27-year career as a police officer has been a lifelong journey.
“It has been a dream since my childhood. I always wanted to be a police officer. When I first came to Princeton (as a police officer), I started having conversations with people who couldn’t understand that dream. I couldn’t understand how it wouldn’t be a dream for everyone,” he said.
Those conversations, Sutter said, led him to be “an example to those who didn’t look to the police as I did. That calling became stronger. My love for the job is as strong today as it was years ago. My most cherished memories are of the people I met along the way and who influenced me.”
“In spite of how hard it is for me to leave, I have comfort knowing (the Princeton Police Department) is so ready to push ahead and achieve such greater things than they already have,” Sutter said.