Saying a real goodbye

In life, one of the hardest things to say is goodbye. As many of you may have heard, I recently set a retirement date from the Passaic City Police Department. My health hasn’t been the greatest, to say the least, and I need to commit my energy to getting well and enjoying family and friends.

I will miss the city’s police department and all my Passaic colleagues, but the most difficult part is leaving my role with the NJ State PBA. This was a dream role for me, working beside President Pat Colligan, our executive board, State Delegates and PBA members throughout the state to protect and serve our profession.

As I sat down to write this, I received the horrific news about the passing of Passaic City Police Sergeant Ralph Merced. I’ve personally known Ralph, his mother, Iris, his sister Michelle, who also serves as a sergeant in Passaic, and his entire family for years. Ralph was a local guy who made good serving his community. He was only 42 years old.

The heartbreak I feel alongside Ralph’s family, friends and colleagues makes my retirement goodbye meaningless. Ralph, I miss you. Please look out from above for all your brothers and sisters in law enforcement.

The news of Ralph’s passing came only hours after law enforcement officers in Passaic arrived on the scene of another officer from East Orange also taking his own life. In all my years of experience, I have never witnessed two self-inflicted losses taking place within mere hours of each other in the same town. The tragedy of that day is something I will truly never forget.

Of course, the stress involved with serving in law enforcement is real and well documented and continues to be a growing problem.

Before COVID, law enforcement was having success raising awareness about the alarming number of suicides occurring in the profession. In 2020, Governor Murphy even signed NJSPBA-supported legislation allowing the state to track police suicides and establish a training program to help prevent law enforcement suicides. At the time of the bill signing, the governor released a statement saying, “New Jersey’s law enforcement officers are the finest in the nation, and we will take every step necessary to ensure their safety both in the line of duty and off-duty.”

Unfortunately, the recent anti-police sentiment that spread across the country is only serving to increase this crisis. The seemingly relentless determination to only focus on the outlying bad behavior of a select few has amplified the negative attention placed on the entirety of law enforcement. And it continues to have true consequences for individual members of law enforcement and the communities that we serve.

I continue to encourage our critics to practice empathy and envision walking in our shoes just as I would encourage any of our brothers and sisters suffering from depression or other mental health challenges to take advantage of the many mental health services available. Asking for help and taking care of your mental health needs is true strength.

We cannot count on others to look out for us. And, while I am leaving my role with the NJSPBA, I will never turn my back on a sister or brother in need. We need to be our own first line of defense helping to identify colleagues who are struggling or may need assistance. Let’s continuously check in with one another. And if you or anyone you know is having difficulties, let’s be aggressive about offering help.

Don’t let the loss of Ralph or anyone else go unnoticed. Let’s continue to raise awareness and look out for each other. It is truly a matter of life and death.