NJSPBA members benefit from information-packed Mini Convention
The 2023 NJSPBA Mini Convention started with eye-opening presentations about the inner workings of the NJ Civil Service Commission and the details from the Police Training Commission about how licensing will work. It ended with an unprecedented account of what it’s like to be an undercover operative in the CIA.
In between, there were nearly 30 sessions that enabled the more than 1,300 attendees to be informed, interested and entertained nonstop. Honored guests like Assemblyman Daniel Benson and Josh Kalafer elevated the Mini Convention to new heights.
Indeed, it was a week when members were able to get information to help do their jobs better, maximize their benefits.
Stories by Mitchell Krugel and Esther Gonzales
Photos by Ed Carattini Jr. and John Hulse
Peer We Go
NJSPBA introduces new peer response team that will provide unprecedented support for members
By Mitchell Krugel
NJSPBA Peer Liaison Committee Chair Luke Sciallo stepped onto the Mini Convention stage wearing an expression that would have served well at one of Hard Rock’s Texas hold ‘em tables. No way to tell Sciallo was about to show the full house he was holding for this presentation about the PBA’s peer support and response resources.
“I understand there’s nothing sexy or exciting about this committee or this team,” submitted Sciallo, the Allenhurst- Ocean Township Local 57 State Delegate.
Truth be told, “Sirius” by the Alan Parsons Project or “Get Ready for This” should have played as Sciallo stepped to the podium. Recognizing the personal and professional mental health challenges that members face on a daily basis, the PBA has formed a peer response team. Made up of 16 members covering the north, central and south parts of the state and eight specially trained clinicians, the peer response team has manifested from the PBA’s goal of enacting a plan of action to help members take care of their mental health and wellness.
“The mission of the team is to assist our members and their respective agencies with issues such as stress, trauma, suicide, addiction, depression and anxiety, as well as support for their families,” Sciallo announced to a Mini crowd that received the news with excitement. “In today’s society, it is crucial that our members know it is OK not to be OK. The past stigma that came with asking for help has been countered by increased mental health services, awareness and peer support. Now it is OK. Recognize that it’s not frowned upon. It’s here.”
The new peer response team elevates an already state-of-the-art clinical service force to a premium PBA benefit on par with labor relations and collective bargaining support, legislative and political action and the Legal Protection Plan. Sciallo noted that it’s a 24/7 member benefit, with the multiple clinicians providing a safety net of being available when needed. Additional first responder inpatient and outpatient medical care are available on referral.
It’s a team in every sense of the word.
“We all play in the same sandbox. We all work together,” Sciallo explained. “So if you have a critical incident — a shooting, a suicide, something like that — we will help you navigate through that storm you’re about to encounter.”
Another objective to spread the ability of the peer response team is adhering to the NJSPBA bylaws, which require every State Delegate to be trained in the peer program. The peer liaison committee is revamping that training so every State Delegate can be state-of-the-art with the program.
The team will be empowered to help members recognize the signs of a home or personal life change, as well as stress, trauma and related emotional difficulties that are common hazards associated with a career in law enforcement. And to raise awareness of the signs of stress responses, such as impatience, irritability, worry, guilt or just an emotionally distant feeling.
Sciallo urges all members to check out the clinical services tab at njspba.com, where they can navigate through three simple steps and reach out to get a 15-minute clinical consult with any of the clinicians posted on the site. Additionally, the peer response team is available to come out to any Local or County Conference meeting.
The peer response team is not just a group of clinicians. Sciallo analogizes that the PBA members on the team are like the road patrol officers, the ones on the street in the thick of it.
“They’re the ones who sit in the room with you, smoke cigars with you and you talk to all the time,” he added.
He describes the clinicians as the detectives. They are the ones who can further investigate your case. And perhaps solve it.
“They have brought in aspects that we could not have ventured to on our own,” Sciallo continued. “They are some of the leading therapists for law enforcement in the state. Each has a variety of experience and offers different services.”
Without naming names, the team includes a therapist who is board certified in public safety psychology and is a former law enforcement officer. Another is certified to help with complex trauma from critical incidents. Another is a certified first responder counselor, and yet another specializes in trauma-related issues and substance abuse. Another is trained in addiction counseling, and several have telehealth available.
“They’re the ones you can trust. That’s why they are here today,” Sciallo shared after the clinicians each stepped up to introduce themselves. “They’re going to be out there, and those are the ones who are going to help you get through the tough times.”
Former CIA operative reveals the trials and tribulations of living a life undercover
By Esther Gonzales
James Olson was in his last year of law school in Iowa when he received a phone call that changed his life forever. The voice on the other end offered an opportunity for him to serve his country.
When he questioned who was calling, Olson told NJSPBA members, the voice said, “We’d rather discuss that in person.”
Olson’s first instinct was perhaps it was someone in the Navy, since he had just served four years and was still in the U.S. Navy Reserve. Maybe they had a special mission for him. So he agreed to meet the mysterious caller in a hotel lobby the next day.
When he walked into the lobby, two men approached him. They were CIA.
Olson’s next instructions were to travel to Washington, where he would be intercepted. He agreed. When he arrived, Olson was whisked to a safe house, where he underwent a series of intensive interviews, aptitude tests and exams on every aspect of his background and personal life. Then, Olson was offered a position. Should he choose to accept it, he was sworn to secrecy.
“Service to our country and the art of espionage quickly got into my blood,” Olson remarked. “I realized very early on that this was what I wanted to do with my life, to help ensure that this great country of ours had the very best intelligence in the world.”
That was the start of a life undercover in the CIA. Olson showed members at the Mini his journey of being a spy.
The first step in preparing for his first mission was paramilitary training at an undercover base known as the “Farm.” That is where he met his wife, Meredith, who was also serving as an undercover CIA agent.
Olson and his wife survived highly intensive training in combat, surveillance, bugging a room, picking locks, jumping out of airplanes and preparing explosives. The next step was oneon- one total immersion language training in French, Russian, German and Spanish.
Then, there was just one thing left – cover. Olson would need to assume multiple identities, work several full-time jobs and, most importantly, never tell a soul what he really was.
“You never really get used to lying to everybody, living a double life,” Olson remarked. “It helped me a great deal with living that difficult undercover lifestyle that I met Meredith at the CIA. She already understood the culture of the CIA, she understood the risks.”
Shortly after they were married, Olson and his wife were assigned to Paris. Olson assumed the identity of a banker during the week and spied on the weekends. Often, Meredith would be away on missions, which he still doesn’t know any details about. Then it would be his turn to leave.
Their apartment included specially designed furniture, hollowed out on the inside, where they concealed all their spy equipment and any incriminating material.
“Meredith and I probably had a dozen different identities when we were in Paris,” Olson explained. “What we were doing in Paris was a crime under French law and [if we were caught] we would be locked up for 40 years in prison.”
Years later, Olson was living in Vienna with his wife and their three children, on assignment against an Iranian terrorist.
That’s when Olson received a letter.
“I’ll never forget that letter,” Olson told members. “It started out, ‘Dear infidel dog.’ Don’t you just hate a letter like that?”
The contents of the letter contained a threat against Olson, his wife and his children. And it mentioned each one of them by name. Although the CIA immediately offered to pull his family out of Vienna, Olson and his wife decided to complete their mission.
After reading the letter, Olson wasn’t worried for his own safety. He had the intensive training, he was always armed, and he had bodyguards at his disposal. Olson said he wasn’t worried for his wife’s safety either. She knew exactly how to take care of herself and she was dangerous.
His real concern was the safety of his children, who did not know their parents were spies.
Olson and his wife had a tough decision to make. They brought their oldest son, who was 16 years old at the time, to an acoustically secure room to speak to him.
“We said, ‘Listen, mom and dad are in the CIA. We are a CIA family. There has been a death threat against us and we need your help,’” Olson commented. “He reacted with pride, as we hoped he would. He did a really good job of watching out for his brother and sister.”
After 31 years, the time came for Olson and his wife to come out from undercover. Olson was offered a position as a professor at the Bush School of Government Public Service at Texas A&M University. And when he accepted it, there was no other option but to reveal their longest-kept secret.
Once they did, the repercussions were immediate. They lost friends who felt deeply betrayed by the lies, they would never be able to travel again overseas because they would be subject to arrest, and their personal safety was once again threatened.
Even after all this time, Olson explained to members, he still wasn’t used to describing his life undercover.
“I got to tell you, it feels strange standing before a group, talking openly about spying,” Olson commented. “We could not tell anyone where we really worked or what we were doing, and no one suspected a thing.”
Your Right to Privacy
NJSPBA members get a lesson about how to safeguard and redact personal information that can be found online
By Esther Gonzales
If anybody googles you, a vast amount of personal information will appear across multiple platforms. That is why the NJ Office of Information Privacy (OIP) and Atlas Privacy are working collaboratively to enact and carry out the mandates of Daniel’s Law.
During back-to-back presentations at the Mini Convention, Christine Campbell, director of the OIP, and Matt Adkisson, CEO of Atlas Privacy, explained how Daniel’s Law enables members to better guard their privacy as law enforcement officers.
The law, which was enacted on Nov. 20, 2020, prohibits the disclosure of certain personal information about judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officers and their family members. Campbell explained that the law was named after U.S. District Court Judge Esther Salas’ son, Daniel Anderl, who lost his life after someone found their home address and broke in.
“We want to make it as unchallenging for you as possible to become a covered person and avail yourself of our protections,” Campbell explained. “I look forward to doing all that we can to make sure that Daniel’s Law is not just something you hear about, but it’s something that actually works for all of you.”
Campbell, her colleague John Porter, and Adkisson detailed the process of how to become covered under Daniel’s Law and the importance of redacting personal information.
After Campbell stepped down from the podium, Porter presented a step-by-step guide for members on how to register.
Porter noted that the first step is to submit your registration as a covered person by visiting the online portal at danielslaw.nj.gov. Once you register and you’re approved, your information will be sent to a redactor. Porter highlighted that family members should ensure they use a separate email address when also registering to prevent the duplication of accounts.
The next step is to click the link for an authorized person. This will be someone who is authorized on behalf of the covered person to create the Daniel’s Law account and apply for the protections of the law. After reviewing all your information, read the Affirmation for Covered Persons, which will appear with a checkbox.
“The affirmation for a covered person explains exactly what you’re applying for and that your information is going to be shared with various government agencies in order to redact your information,” Porter related. “So it’s very important that you understand it.”
The last step is to confirm your information and send it for approval. Once your request is submitted to the OIP, it will be reviewed. Once it is confirmed that you are eligible as a covered person, you will receive an email. Most importantly, Porter mentioned, members should be aware that if a family member does not live with you, they will not be eligible for protection under Daniel’s Law.
After walking members through the registration process, Porter handed off to Adkisson, who reiterated the dangers of public personal information. It only takes 30 seconds to find a phone number or the names of your children.
And that is the exact problem Atlas Privacy is attempting to solve by redacting and scrubbing that information from the internet.
“This is a proactive, not a reactive, service,” Adkisson mentioned. “It’s like an insurance product. You want it there before you need it, not afterwards.”
Most importantly, Adkisson urged members to add all their family members, including spouses and parents. It’s still possible to find someone if their family’s information isn’t scrubbed. In closing, Adkisson raised a few important questions that members often ask: What is my status? How are my removals going? What if my identity was stolen?
To answer these questions, members can either forward their emails from the OIP to Atlas Privacy or override the need for approval. Adkisson also submitted that in about three months, Atlas Privacy will roll out an identity-theft insurance policy, which members can sign up for by visiting njspba.atlas.net.
“We’re building out features and services for you,” Adkisson added. “So if you have feedback, send it in.”
Addressing questions about licensing
And now, the presentation members attending the Mini Convention had been waiting for.
Well, sort of.
Steve Wenger, deputy attorney general with the New Jersey Office of Public Integrity and Accountability and counsel to the Police Training Commission (PTC), along with former State Corrections Local 105 President John Cunningham, the PTC administrator, spoke about the licensing of New Jersey law enforcement officers that will begin on Jan. 1, 2024.
They confirmed how much input the NJSPBA had when this law was written and passed. And that the PBA’s Kevin Lyons, who sits on the PTC, has been a very significant voice in prepping for the deployment of licensing.
“For 98 percent of the agencies and people out there, you’re not going to see any difference at all,” Wenger submitted. “We all know there are some problem officers out there, and we read about them in the paper, and they’re the ones that this is really designed for. So this isn’t a gotcha thing.”
Wenger also noted that the PBA’s presence ensured that there are no fees for getting a license or renewing a license. On Jan. 1, 2024, officers will be issued a license. Some will be for one year, some for two and some for three years.
“The only reason we do that is that we can’t license 38,000 people continuously every three years, so we needed to stagger this,” Wenger added.
The PTC will also specify annual training officers should get, which Wenger noted is what they are getting now, for the most part.
“We would like to see defensive tactics included in this,” he noted. “That’s something we would very much like to see, to minimize having to resort to higher levels of force.”
Renewal notices will come to the agency’s contact and be an administrative function, more or less. A big function will be checking officers who move agencies to make sure they are not resigning to avoid IA investigations.
As for a big question on members’ minds as this presentation progressed:
“Yes, the PTC can deactivate your license, but not without cause,” Wenger explained. “So this isn’t a situation where if your chief doesn’t like you, he can deactivate your license. They’re going to have to go through the PTC and explain why this has happened. It prevents that kind of retaliation from going on.”