Economic times have been undeniably tough for quite a few years, forcing the government to drastically reduce or even cut the funding that’s helped bolster municipalities across the nation. The Weehawken Police Department has not been exempt from these cuts, says Director of Public Safety Jeff Welz. But the town recently was able to hire three new police officers who are slated to attend Morris County Fire Fighters and Police Training Academy on Oct. 1.
“These are the first new patrolmen we’ve hired in a couple of years because of the severe economic downturn,” Welz explained. “I’m pleased that through cutbacks and attrition [retirements], rather than layoffs, we’ve restructured the department and managed to weather the storm.”
On Tuesday, Daniel Lopez, Cosmo Amato, and Shawn Peacock sat at a table in the police station piled high with the thick police academy textbooks they would quickly know by heart. Soon, they were sworn in.
Each man came from a completely different job as he waited for the chance to be hired as a police officer, and each was grateful for the opportunity.
“You take the paths that life gives you,” said Lopez, a lifetime Weehawken resident and former math teacher. “Being a police officer wasn’t something that came out of the blue. It’s part of my long journey, and this is the time it came into play and I’m so glad to have been given the opportunity.”
Meet Weehawken’s newest finest
Lopez, 26, has a few relatives who were also members of the Weehawken police force. After graduating from Seton Hall University and teaching math in Palisades Park, he decided to return to the town he grew up in that helped him mature and grow, he said.
“Teaching gave me the patience that lent me the kind of qualities that will help me as a police officer,” Lopez added. “If you can deal with kids you can deal with anyone, and I’m excited to give back to the community who made me who I am.”
Amato has been a resident of Weehawken on and off for 25 years. He moved away at 21, got married, had his 3-year-old daughter Sofia, and moved back because “the town is phenomenal,” he said.
“These are the first new patrolmen we’ve hired in a couple of years because of the severe economic downturn.” – Jeff Welz
“You always have aspirations at some point growing up to be the good guy,” Amato explained. “I went to school for business management and then became an analyst, which will definitely help me as an officer. This is certainly the pinnacle of a realized dream.”
Peacock, 26, worked as a cable technician and tried for six years to be sworn in as a police officer, but found it difficult because, as Welz had mentioned, department were simply not hiring. He grew up in Weehawken and has wanted this job for a long time, he said.
“I like helping people, and I want to make a better name for my family,” Peacock explained. “I just want to get out there and begin.”
Becoming an officer
To become an officer for a municipality like Weehawken, one must have a high school diploma or equivalent, a clean criminal record, and a license with a clean driving record. They must be first sworn in by the municipality before attending a rigorous 26-week certified police academy that provides training in all aspects of law enforcement, Welz explained.
Weehawken provides the mandatory pre-academy orientation and preparation. Once enrolled, students must pass intensive written, physical, and firearms tests.
“I was a college athlete and so I think the strenuous physical aspect is definitely something I can handle,” Lopez said. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s the anticipation that’s killing me.”
Amato agreed. “You know it’s coming and it feels like the clock ticks ever so slowly while you’re waiting to get to that point,” he said. “I can’t wait to begin.”
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org