The Guttenberg Police Department continued to grow stronger with the recent addition of several patrol officers. Thomas Collins and Douglas Salazar both took the oath as Class II Special Police Officers at the Town Council meeting on Jan. 25.
In addition, Steve Pelaez was ceremonially sworn in as a probationary police officer at the meeting, after being appointed to the position at the Town Council meeting on Dec. 28.
Collins was joined by his girlfriend Eileen Villanueva as he took the oath in front of a room filled with friends, fellow officers, and supporters. Born and raised in Jersey City, Collins currently lives in Essex County and works for North Bergen EMS.
“Becoming a police officer has always been my goal,” he said. “I’ve been working in this field [as an EMT] for 11 years. I know the area. This is another step in the right direction, so it’s very exciting.”
A Special Police Officer has the same responsibilities as a regular police officer. “Their duties are the same,” explained Deputy Director Joel Magenheimer. “The only difference is they’re part time. They have full powers as a police officer.”
The Guttenberg Police Department consists of 16 patrolmen, six sergeants, two lieutenants, and six part time special police officers.
The township swore in three other Class II Special Police Officers at the Jan. 4 council meeting. Wilson Acevedo, Jesus Garcia, and Jonathan Stapleton all joined the force as SPOs.
“We’re allowed six specials for the size of the department,” explained Magenheimer. “You get a percentage of the number of officers in the department. I think it’s 20 percent of whatever your department is, that’s how many specials you can have.”
The Guttenberg Police Department consists of 16 patrolmen, six sergeants, two lieutenants, and six special police officers. One of the lieutenants serves as staff/administrative police officer and the other is commander of patrol operations.
All were appointed by the mayor and council by resolution.
Juan Barrera was promoted to lieutenant last year at the Oct. 26 Town Council meeting. Albert Hernandez became a sergeant at the same meeting, and Matthew Luciano transitioned from a Class II SPO to a regular police officer.
Climbing the ladder
Steve Pelaez served as a special police officer for about 15 months in Guttenberg prior to being appointed as a regular police officer with a probationary period of 12 months, beginning Dec. 28, 2015, during which time he must successfully pass a New Jersey State Police Training Program and be found by his instructors to have the aptness and the physical, mental, and psychological fitness to successfully carry out the duties and perform the functions of police officer.
“It wasn’t easy,” he said of his journey to become a police officer. “You have to put a lot of work into this.”
Pelaez was accompanied at the swearing-in ceremony by numerous friends and family, including three law enforcement officers with whom he served as SPO in Fairview. “We’re all best friends,” he said. “We’ve all been at this since we were 18. We worked together for six years, walking up and down Fairview. One by one we began getting hired.”
“We all graduated the special academy together,” said Investigator David Defendini of the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office. “Me and Steve, we were both firemen together.”
“My dad has been working hard for this,” said Pelaez’s son, Sean, 10. “He spent six years as a class one, and then he got class two. And now he’s become a regular. Then he’s going to work his way up.”
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.