Residents of Secaucus had a chance to chat informally with various members of the Police Department as well as the mayor and Town Council members when the Coffee with a Cop series officially launched on Wednesday, July 16 at Natoli’s Deli.
“This is the chief’s brainchild,” said Det. Michael Torres about the new program. “Get out in the community, speak to everybody, answer any questions they have, build that connection with the public. A lot of towns don’t have that. In the end, without the public’s help, our job is a lot tougher.”
Deputy Chief John Cerny, a 27-year veteran of the force, took over as acting chief of the Secaucus police on June 2. One of his first acts was to organize Coffee with a Cop as a way to build rapport with the public.
Officers from all levels throughout the department attended the event, held inside Natoli’s and in their outside dining area. Members of the public showed up to ask questions, get to know the cops, and show their support.
“The idea was to show them we’re approachable,” said Torres. “You have questions, we’ll talk to you. Because without the people, the citizens, I wouldn’t be able to do my job. They’re my eyes and ears. We’re all on the same side. And by doing this periodically it opens those channels of communication.”
Coffee with a Cop will continue regularly at different locations throughout town. The next session is scheduled for Aug. 4.
“My son is going to the police academy,” said resident Laurie Pein, whose husband is also a cop in a neighboring town. She came to the event to show her support. Her 23-year-old son Tyler was about to start training at the police academy in Mahwah. He is one of five Secaucus officers in a class of almost 100 trainees. “He’s very excited, he’s very happy.”
Attending the event with Pein was her young son Connor, who already wants to be a cop. Lt. Carlos Goyenechea was ready to get him started this summer. Goyenechea runs the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program for Secaucus as well as the Junior Police Academy.
The Junior Police Academy is an intensive and immersive four-day course for kids to learn about law enforcement. “The first day we do the old-school thing, you yell at them, make them do pushups, start teaching them how to march,” he said. “Second day last year we went up to Bergen County Police and Fire, showed them a couple of videos, we went to the range, saw the cops shoot. They go into the smokehouse and get trained in what to do in a fire. They actually put out a fire.”
It doesn’t stop there. Day three they’re on the road again. “Last year we went down to the air force base down at McGuire and they trained with the air force,” said Goyenechea. “Fourth day we do everything here. One year I had a helicopter land. State police talked to them. We’ve had a dog, a police dog. The fire truck comes in, EMS comes in. It’s a lot of fun for the kids but at the same time we’re always teaching them the drill ceremony and how to work together as a group. They don’t stop.”
And how do the kids like it? “We got kids now that are repeat offenders, they just keep coming back,” said Goyenechea. “Because they love it. Last year we had 60 kids.”
Among them last year was William Postel, age 14, who attended the Coffee with a Cop event.
“They showed us how to put out fire electronically,” said Postel. “We went to the police academy and they told us about what they did and how it was. We practiced marching. And we did some pushups. Me especially. Because my brother’s a cop.”
Postel recommends the JPA for others his age. “It was good. They’ll have fun.”
This year the Junior Police Academy takes place from Aug. 18-21. Anyone interested can contact the police department.
A passion for law enforcement
Three members of the Williams family attended Coffee with a Cop as well, led there by son Isaac, a boy scout who saw the event advertised in The Reporter and didn’t want to miss it.
“I’m looking to start a police explorer post for the town of Secaucus,” said the 17-year-old. “It’s like a police cadet program that’s owned by the Boy Scouts of America. This is for my eagle scout project.”
Williams has plans to raise funds via events to purchase uniforms. Ultimately he hopes to go into law enforcement.
“I always had a passion of wanting to protect people and to defend the constitution,” he said. “I started looking into it and I wanted to become an FBI agent. Then it was the DEA and then all these other agencies.”
Currently he has his goal set on the FBI or the Secaucus Police Department.
Accompanying Williams to the event were his 14-year-old brother Jacob, also a boy scout, and his dad, Joseph C. Williams, a longtime Secaucus resident.
“One of the requirements to become an eagle scout is you have to do a project for the community,” said the proud dad. “And he’s always been interested in law enforcement so when we saw the ad in the paper – come down, drink a cup of coffee, this type of thing – he said, ‘okay, this is my opportunity.’ He’s civic minded. I guess that’s part of the scouts, too.”
The next Coffee with a Cop session is scheduled for Aug. 4 at a location to be determined. Cerny plans to continue the series regularly at different locations throughout town. Also in the works are periodic informational sessions at the library about home safety and other issues, as part of the department’s community outreach initiative.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.