Cranbury’s new police chief reflects on career and new position

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Cranbury's Chief of Police Michael Owens (right) being officially sworn in as the new chief on the steps of Town Hall.PHOTO COURTESY OF CRANBURY TOWNSHIP
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Chief Michael Owens (center) next to his son Cooper (center), wife Jennifer (center right) and daughter Eva (right). PHOTO COURTESY OF EVELYN SPANN
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Cranbury's Chief of Police Michael Owens (right) being officially sworn in as the new chief on the steps of Town Hall.PHOTO COURTESY OF CRANBURY TOWNSHIP
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Chief Michael Owens (center) next to his son Cooper (center), wife Jennifer (center right) and daughter Eva (right). PHOTO COURTESY OF EVELYN SPANN

Rising through the ranks of Cranbury’s Police Department, Michael Owens has earned his new title as chief of police.

Owens now leads a department of 20 sworn officers, not including himself, since his official swearing in on Oct. 1. He has taken over for former Chief of Police Rickey Varga, who retired on Sept. 30 after more than 30 years of service in the police department.

“As a police officer with Cranbury Township for 22 years, it is an honor to serve as the chief. I look forward to representing Cranbury police officers and I will strive to continue to serve Cranbury residents to the best of my ability,” Owens said. “I had the privilege to work under many chiefs in Cranbury. I was sworn in after Chief Rickey Varga retired, after his 32-year dedicated career in Cranbury. I was his lieutenant and operations commander. I would like to follow his lead for the continued successful direction of this department.”

Owens’s path to becoming a police officer began when he spent eight years in his youth working during the summer, as a beach lifeguard at Ortley Beach in Toms River.

“I think working those summers as a lifeguard piqued my interest in police work, as the interest in serving and protecting others was appealing to me then, and still carries on now,” he added.

Owens would attend William Paterson University and earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology from the university.

“While in college, I had the opportunity to travel abroad to New Castle, England, and study Comparative Law for a semester. I am currently working on my master’s degree from Monmouth University,” he said.

His career in law enforcement started as a Class I special officer in the Seaside Heights Police Department.

“After graduating the Ocean County Police Academy, Class of ’69, I worked as a seasonal Class II officer. I briefly worked for the Mantoloking Police Department (Ocean County) for a summer before being hired full-time in Cranbury in January of 1999,” Owens said.

From patrol officer, he would make detective, then earned sergeant, and from there rose to lieutenant before reaching the position of chief.

“Within the department, I helped develop the field training officer program and I was one of the first detectives to begin in Cranbury. I worked as a D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer, which is now known as LEAD (Law Enforcement Against Drugs), for most of those years for the elementary level at the Cranbury School,” he said.

The most rewarding part of his work as an officer and chief, he said, would come from working with children in the school.

“I presented the safety programs and community programs for students at the school and churches. I will continue to make sure my officers continue to be active within the school and within the community,” Owens said.

A short-term goal for Owens will be to continue developing strong community bonds and fostering a strong mutual relationship with the Cranbury Fire Department and First Aid Squad, he said.

“Work will continue with traffic enforcement within the town and our department will be supportive and welcoming to the warehouses and businesses seeking to make Cranbury their base of operation,” he added. “I am proud to lead a great group of Cranbury police officers and I am honored, humbled, and proud to serve the residents of a town I truly love.”