John Johnson didn't know what he really wanted to do when he was growing up in Hoboken. He tried several professions, working with his father, but never felt comfortable, so he joined the Weehawken police department.
Together, the two highly decorated veteran officers received promotions to the rank of sergeant Wednesday night, as part of the regularly scheduled township council meeting.
Roa, Jr., who is also an active member of the United States National Guard as a first lieutenant, and Johnson, who was a detective on the Weehawken police force for the last three years, were sworn in by Mayor Richard Turner and received their new badges after the township's business was completed.
Like father like son
At 27, Roa is one of the youngest to ever earn the rank of sergeant and only the second Hispanic superior officer, joining Lt. Alex Banos.
Roa's father, Rene, Sr., who retired last year after nearly 30 years on the job, was the township's first-ever Hispanic police officer.
"I've been very fortunate," said Roa, who has been a Weehawken cop for eight years and a member of the National Guard for nine. "I can't complain. I took the [promotional] test three years ago, scored well and I got promoted this time."
Roa said that his extensive military training should benefit him as a police sergeant. Roa was also part of the Hudson County Rapid Deployment Team that went to New Orleans to help the area ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in September, 2005.
"I think any time you get more training, it makes you more efficient," Roa said. "Having all that knowledge at hand is going to be better for me in the long run."
Roa still honors his commitment to the Army National Guard, serving one weekend per month and for two full weeks every summer. He will continue that commitment as a police sergeant.
"It will always be the same thing as it was before," Roa said. "I always wanted to be in the military and a member of the police force. I'm getting the best of both worlds.
The wait is over
The 40-year-old Johnson, a resident of Weehawken for the last 17 years, first took the state promotional test seven years ago and finally received his call last week. He has served as a plainclothes detective for the last three years.
"When it didn't happen back then, it just made me try harder the next time," Johnson said. "I could have very easily given up back then, but it just made me try a little harder. I was patient enough to get another chance."
Weehawken Public Safety Director Jeff Welz was pleased to be able to present promotions to two of the department's finest.
"They are both outstanding police officers and I feel very confident that they will make excellent supervisors," Welz said. "It was part of the overall reorganization of the police department. We had some vacancies at sergeant due to some recent promotions to lieutenant and we wanted to stay on target with having superior officers on duty around the clock. Rene comes from a good family and his military background will help as a supervisor. John has been a long-time detective and an excellent candidate for promotion. They both deserved it."
New uniforms, new responsibilities
Welz said that the permanent assignments for Roa and Johnson will be determined within the next week or so. The two new sergeants are eager to start their new responsibilities. For Johnson, a married father of one, it means a change in wardrobe, from regular clothes to the dress blues.
"I don't mind putting the uniform back on," Johnson said. "I've been waiting so long to get the uniform back on. I can't find anyone to put the bars on the sleeve yet. Sometimes, I missed the uniform. I don't know what the orders are just yet, but I'm ready to go back on patrol if needed. Whatever they need me to do. It's a great feeling right now."
Johnson said that he might miss working on the tough investigative cases. He was one of the detectives assigned to the murder investigation of a Bergen County teenager in a Weehawken hotel room last summer.
"When you get the interesting cases, it's usually bad news," Johnson said. "But that's the nature of the job."
Roa said that the first person he contacted was his father, who now resides in Florida. He never had a chance to make sergeant, so the younger Roa has gone past the old man.
"He was real happy for me," the younger Roa said. "He's real proud. I know I am as well."