“It looks like I’m going to have to hurry up and become a lieutenant,” joked police Det. Sgt. Thomas A. Malanka a few minutes before his 19-year-old son, Thomas J. Malanka was sworn in as one of three new Secaucus police officers on Jan. 8.
Thomas J Malanka, Michael Cucciniello, and Martin A. Moreda were the first Secaucus residents to be appointed to the Secaucus Police Department after a modification of a hiring agreement with the U.S. Justice Department, and the Malankas are the first father-son combination on the force for over a decade.
“Having fathers and sons on the police force is not unusual in a small town like Secaucus,” said Mayor Dennis Elwell in an interview after the swearing-in ceremony. “Malanka did well on the test and he and the others will likely make fine officers.”
Det. Sgt. Malanka said his son has been studying criminal justice courses at New Jersey City University. Now, his son will likely pursue his degree part-time as he takes on full-time responsibilities as a patrol officer.
“This was just too good an opportunity to pass up,” the detective sergeant said.
In November, the Town Council scraped its previous hiring process in favor of a new resident-friendly procedure, giving residents a better chance at becoming local police officers.
Because of an agreement with the Justice Department and the NAACP more than ten years ago, Secaucus had been required to offer employment on its police force to residents throughout the state and the county, putting local residents who wanted a job in a kind of catch-22.
“Local kids looking to get on a police force found they couldn’t go to other towns because those towns had a resident-only policy,” Elwell said. “And these kids had a tough time in Secaucus because of the large number of people from around the county and state applying.”
Over the last two years, Town Administrator Anthony Iacono negotiated with the Justice Department and the NAACP to modify its agreement. The new agreement allowed Secaucus to give preference to Secaucus residents for the first three hirings, and then look outside of town for the next officer hired.
“I’m very, very happy we could return to a list of Secaucus residents,” Elwell said, noting that additional people waiting for employment include women. Currently Secaucus has one woman police officer.
Police Chief Dennis Corcoran said the new officers would start the police academy during the first week in March, and would undergo training in the Secaucus police station until then.
“This would involve teaching them how to write reports and how the department operates,” Corcoran said.
After the swearing-in, Moreda said this was something he had always wanted to do, and that he had finished as top scorer on the police test.
Cucciniello has spent the last year and half in training to become a police officer.
“But I’ve been a volunteer firefighter here in Secaucus for the last 10 years,” he noted.
The 19-year-old Malanka said he had talked to his father about what he would do about returning to college after the academy.
“But first I have to get things settled here,” he said.
Det. Sgt. Malanka said he would be helping his son get used to the department.
Chief Corcoran he was the chief of police who had promoted the elder Malanka to sergeant.
“I expect to be the chief that promotes the son when his time comes,” Corcoran said.
Elwell said the new recruits were extremely bright. He said he expected them all to do well through the academy and during the year’s probation period with the department. CAPTION WILL HAVE TO BE CHANGED: Zaccario remembered
During the late 1970s, Nicholas F. Zaccario waded out into the middle of a partially flooded Plaza section to help unsnarl a traffic gridlock there. While hardly surprising for a police officer, it was something that startled some people because Zaccario was deputy police chief at the time.
“He was that kind of police officer and that kind of man,” said former Court Administrator Dennis Pope, in recalling the career of his neighbor and a man he worked with professionally as part of Mayor Paul Amico’s administration. Zaccario died at age 81 on Jan. 3.
“He was considered a tough, but fair police officer,” Amico remembered, during a telephone interview. For many who remember him best, Zaccario was a big part of the Secaucus police department, a man who looked, acted and sounded like a police officer – and whose career seemed to go on and on. Although born in Hoboken, Zaccario lived in Secaucus for nearly 77 years, and served 33 years on the Secaucus Police Department. He worked his way through the ranks from patrol officer to deputy chief. Born in Hoboken, he moved to Secaucus at the age of 5, and eventually became a special police officer in Secaucus with aspirations to become the chief of police someday. World War II arrived, and he was among the many thousands who enlisted early and was sent as part of the 88th Infantry Division to fight in Africa, Sicily, and Italy. During his stay in Italy, he served as a military police officer. Over the years, he proudly displayed his ribbons for combat in three warfare theaters during World War II, as well as his two Purple Hearts and especially his Bronze Star. He was wounded twice and suffered bouts with hepatitis and jaundice while overseas.
“He was born to be a police officer, in fact, he was born to be a police chief,” Pope said, admitting he was “a very big admirer” of Zaccario’s. “Our properties almost abut, and I grew up with his son Michael and often walked to school with him.”
Pope and others described Zaccario as “a straight forward man,” who set a high standard for police performance. Zaccario served as chief of the Secaucus Police Department from 1976 to 1980. He was forced to retire after a serious heart attack. He wore a pacemaker at the time of his death.
“He was a very conscientious and serious minded career police officer,” Amico said. “He was very interested in the town, and worked hard.”
“With Nick you always knew where you stood,” Pope said. “He was a very good chief and nothing got in the way of his being a good police officer.”
Although considered a strong Amico supporter for years, Zaccario got involved in local politics after his retirement, and eventually ran against Amico for mayor in 1987.
“Nick was very direct,” Pope said. “Some people might even have called him blunt. He always got to the point and didn’t surround what he had to say with frills. In some ways he didn’t have the graces to be a politician. He didn’t know how to schmooze people.”
Others called him “a standup kind of a guy” who always did things with the best of intentions. For 25 years, he chaired the Hudson County chapter of the March of Dimes, ran the Hudson County chapter of the American Red Cross and founded the Secaucus chapter of Unico. He also served as county and Secaucus commander of the American Legion.
In 1976, Zaccario got embroiled in a controversy concerning the son of a Secaucus councilman, after he and several other officers were accused of covering up for the boy after a break-in at a local tavern. Although indicted, Zaccario was later cleared off all wrongdoing.
As a police officer and detective, Zaccario built a reputation for law and order and was particularly effective in combating drug-dealing in Secaucus during the late 1960s and early 1970s, and has been credited with making numerous arrests.
“He also did a good job at raising his kids, several of whom went on to teaching kids in our school system,” Pope said.
“Aside from being a very good police person,” Amico said, “he was a good family man, a good husband and father, and he took his responsibilities seriously.” – Al Sullivan