The pride, professionalism and appreciation has enabled law enforcement in New Jersey to withstand the barrage of anti-police rhetoric and sentiment
Prose on a T-shirt conveys a declaration that captures what you have been feeling, stressing about and battling because of how challenging it has made the job the past year-plus. The words of the prophet are written on the back surrounding a blue line flag…
A SOCIETY THAT CHOOSES
TO GO TO WITH ITS POLICE
HAD BETTER LEARN TO MAKE
FRIENDS WITH ITS CRIMINALS
For the past nearly 14 months, how can you dedicated and passionate public servants, guardians of the community and followers of the rule of law not feel like society has made you the enemy?
How can you not feel like it’s a war being waged with the weaponry of the mainstream news media’s anti-police rhetoric: Radical groups staging protests and riots. Assassinations of law enforcement officers occurring across the country at an alarming rate. Decisions in cities to defund the police and incessant talk by federal and local elected officials about doing so. Legislative attacks on, or reductions of, law enforcement’s qualified immunity. Proposing, and even passing, legislation to criminalize some of your actions. Calls for civilian review boards. Reams of orders and guidelines from the attorney general. Social media haters fueling the cancel culture. And those in the public who want to video your every move in search of a minor infraction that could end your career.
It’s enough to make you not want to give a shirt.
Since June of 2020, your PBA president and executive vice president have written in these very pages about the casualties of this great war. In the July 2020 issue of NJ Cops Magazine, NJSPBA President Pat Colligan shared his testimony before the New Jersey Senate Law and Public Safety Committee that warned:
The first obligation of government is for the safety of the people. You can’t have a free and prosperous society if people feel unsafe. I hope that nobody is immune or ignoring this incredible rise of recent violence we have witnessed around the country. It certainly isn’t at the hand of the police. This experiment of defunding the police and letting politicians make policing decisions has already reared its ugly head with breakneck speed. But I beg you to remember that police officers are hurting, too. We deserve more respect than what we are getting and piling on us does not make our communities any safer. It forces active officers to second-guess if putting their life at risk every day is worth it when forces in the media and in government treat us all as potential criminals.
In the same issue, Executive Vice President Marc Kovar documented:
Along with these protests continuing throughout New Jersey and the entire nation, we have appointed and elected officials who are willing to enflame an already volatile situation the second they see a microphone or have a moment to fire up their social media, choosing to spark further discord between law enforcement and the communities they serve. These same officials are victimizing law enforcement officers through senseless directives and threats to their qualified immunity that would only increase the problems they seek to extinguish. With crime spiking and violence seizing streets across the country, I find it stunning that people would still call for defunding law enforcement.
“Basically, the public does not trust us and does not like because of a couple of bad apples,” Kovar expounds when considering the conflict and how PBA members have been standing their ground.
“But this is our calling and I honestly believe in it’s in our blood,” he continues. “We’re not getting rich. We’re not getting the highest praise. But this is our calling, so just because the world turned against us overnight, we’re not going to stop doing our jobs. We’re not going to stop responding to calls. We’re not going to stop helping the public. This is what we’re meant to do.”
United We Stand
NJSPBA Executive Vice President Marc Kovar offered the following passage in his June 2020 NJCops Magazine report that expresses how law enforcement officers continue to stand strong. As he wrote, the author of this message is unknown.
Yes… let’s all join in the hatred of all police for the sins of a few. Let’s defund one of the most important public institutions in our country’s history. Let’s have all badges removed and allow people to tend to their own safety and security.
But before you do so, let me tell you about the badge and the thousands of good men and women it represents.
This badge ran toward certain death as the towers collapsed on 9/11.
This badge ran into the line of fire to save the people in the Pulse nightclub.
This badge sheltered thousands as bullets rained down from the Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas.
This badge protected a BLM rally that left five officers dead in Dallas.
This badge ran into the Sandy Hook School to stop a school shooter.
This badge killed the Oregon District mass shooter in seconds.
This badge has done CPR on your drowned child.
This badge has fought the wife-beater who left his spouse in a coma.
This badge has run into burning buildings to save the occupants.
This badge has been shot for simply existing.
This badge has waded through flood waters to rescue the elderly trapped on the roof.
This badge has intentionally crashed into the wrong-way driver to protect innocent motorists.
This badge has helped find the lost child so his mother would stop crying hysterically.
This badge has helped the injured dog off the road and rushed it to the vet.
This badge has escorted the elderly woman across the street because she couldn’t see well and was afraid to cross.
This badge has bought food for hungry kids because they had been abandoned.
This badge has been soaked in blood and tears.
This badge has been covered by a mourning band to honor those who have sacrificed everything in service.
You may hate me because I wear it. But I wear it with pride. Despite your hate and your anger, I will await the next call for help. And I will come running without hesitation. Just like the thousands of men and women across this great nation.
Make a stand
The words from the PBA about what has transpired the past year-plus would make for some compelling T-shirts. They would include lines from the business community that unconditionally backs the blue, law enforcement leaders who truly know your value and some of the legislators who have your back.
Hopefully, these messages can offer words of praise, encouragement and most of all reinforcement to help you continue to stand your ground. These are words that the mainstream news media would never report, but your supporters want you to hear, remember and sleep better because of.
They confirm, as Colligan always asserts, the impeccable performance that makes New Jersey cops second to none. They indicate you are always willing to get better and do better and your ability to adjust – without major incidents – to the plethora of policy changes and new policies that continue to come down. They acknowledge that while the forest might not look very good right now, there are a lot of trees out there that are painted blue.
Nobody speaks these words more intensely and honestly that Kovar. In the May issue, Kovar wrote, “Today’s heroes should beware of tomorrow’s chopping block.” But even he could not have anticipated how prophetic that would become. And how quickly.
“When I started in the 90’s, I heard it was the worst time ever and we thought it can’t get any worse,” he recalls. “But I don’t know. The pandemic hit and they were literally having parades for us, giving us pizza and ice cream parties. We were America’s darlings. Then, we woke up the next day and we were public enemy No. 1.”
But Kovar sees significant signs that PBA members are not giving in. He notes the fallout from the 20-and-out bill the PBA worked so hard to get passed. That could have opened the door to mass exodus, but he says that only about miniscule number of members have decided to take the 20-and-out so far.
He adds that much more of the public than you would be led to believe is not giving in to the anti-police rhetoric generated in the news media.
“I honestly believe from the multi-millionaire to the lowest income people in the state still want policing,” he explains. “You’ve got the small majority speaking and that’s what the media is focused on. But the average person out there does still need, want and like the police.”
He also sees the success of the State PBA’s frontline efforts in NJ State Legislature. The work the Colligan, Kovar and Government Affairs Director Rob Nixon have done to build relationships with legislators has not only facilitated the passage of some key bills but stopped a truckload of those that would negatively impact law enforcement.
“A lot of these legislators, especially in leadership, are in a no-win situation because of their constituencies,” Kovar comments. “But they have done the right thing and had our backs as best as they can in these times.”
He confides that he doesn’t have a great answer for how to keep fighting the good fight. But here’s a pretty good one:
“When you see that blue line, when you see a sticker on car or a flag on a house, think about how that makes you feel good,” Kovar reminds. “Just keep going out there. The tide is eventually going to turn. Keep believing in what you are doing and get home safe.”
Despite what you hear coming out of Trenton, some legislators have been vociferously outspoken about not only maintaining police presence but increasing it. There have been discussions in and around the floor of both the Senate and the General Assembly about objectives for more formidable law enforcement, and much of the talk has included PBA input.
Some of the words might not be fit to print in the news media, but you need to hear them. Especially when the topic of defunding the police has come up for debate.
“I obviously oppose defund the police, but it’s absurd to even recommend that. And you can put it on the record,” announces Assemblyman Hal Wirths, who represents the 24th District in Sussex County. “I mean, if anything, with crime soaring, we should be adding to law enforcement. So I’m very concerned as a public official and, more importantly, as a father and a citizen that the anti-police sentiment is very unjustified. We’re more unsafe because of this, actually.”
Wirths also represents a contingent in the legislature that is not just all talk. He debated heavily against the legislation that would have criminalized law enforcement for being within 100 feet of a ballot box when citizens are trying to vote. He was part of the group that helped alter the marijuana bill that originally would have enabled law enforcement officers to be charged criminally for questioning a minor in possession. And he adds how proud he was to be part of the legislative lobby against implementation of civilian review boards.
“You’ve got to play hardball with the people who are going after the police,” Wirths adds. “There’s definitely people who believe in the police because we don’t want society to break down. And you’re seeing that now.”
Senator Joe Cryan, the former Union County sheriff who represents the 20th District, reports that the State Legislature shares law enforcement’s desire to be professional and trained. There has been a lot of discussion about how to include cultural awareness in that training and ensure departments look like the communities they represent.
“I think it’s taken on a rhetoric of how we can do better, and the PBA has embraced those discussions,” details Cryan, the vice chair of the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee. “I think the public needs to know about the amount of investment that goes into a high-quality law enforcement officer. And the officers have embraced it and do it well.”
Additionally, Steve Oroho, the senator from the 24th District, has had his ears up checking for anti-police sentiment in the legislature or in the public.
“I haven’t seen anything where there were any disparaging comments about the police raging,” Oroho shares. “And I’d say the wide, wide majority of people – I’m talking in the high 90 precent – when asked, ‘Do you like it when you see a police officer,’ they’re going to say, ‘Yes.’”
Don Shauger, second from right, stands alongside NJSPBA President Pat Colligan as one of the sponsors for the Survivor & Welfare Golf Tournament in 2021.
The secret weapon for law enforcement might be the folks in the business community who seem to be thick with blue blood. PBA members might have met Don Shauger, who owns the East Orange-based general contracting firm The Shauger Group, Inc., with this wife Lisa, at the Inaugural Cigar Gala to benefit the NJSPBA Survivor & Welfare Fund where he served as one of the platinum sponsors.
Shauger developed his love of law enforcement at an early age. He was raised by a single parent in West Orange, where officers were his role models. He was a police explorer and thought he would become a law enforcement officer before going to work in the town’s public works department.
“If I didn’t have PAL football or baseball growing up in West Orange, I don’t know where I would have been,” Shauger confides. “I used to stand with the cop by the coffee shop where my mother worked and direct traffic with him. Police officers were the highest people you could ever look up to.”
As a sponsor of the Cigar Gala and the NJSPBA golf outing for Survivor & Welfare, Shauger is part of vast and growing brotherhood that unconditionally pays it forward to law enforcement. When COVID hit, he immediately responded with an effort to bring lunches to the many departments he knows that provide officers to secure his road work.
And if some of you in and around Essex County have had a check picked up at a restaurant anonymously, it probably was Shauger. He does that for cops and the clergy whenever he sees them.
And he and Lisa have gone above and beyond to create a scholarship in honor of West Orange Local 25 member Timothy Groves, one of the department’s renowned community policing aficionados who lost a battle with cancer in 2013. For the past seven years, the Shaugers have scholarships to West Orange High School seniors in honor of Groves, and, to date, more than 60 students have earned the distinction.
“It’s an honor for us to do what we did because it’s very important for Lisa and I to make sure that we are there to help the people that are always here to help us,” Shauger assures. “One of my advisors said I give more than the top 10 corporate companies in the world. I told him that I’ve gained more than the top CEO of a top company because of them. So if I ever lose everything because I made a financial decision of giving too much, I’ve died a rich man.”
Jeff and Debbie Rosen, center, with Pat Colligan, left, and Marc Kovar represent many sponsors from the business community who have stepped up to sponsor events like the Inaugural Cigar Gala.
Another blue blood who is devoted to paying it forward to law enforcement is Jeff Rosen. Along with his wife Debbie, they have built the Lending to Heroes community that has brought financial stability to so many PBA members. The Rosens’ contributions to the PBA have been well documented, and it’s an expression of supporting the heroes that inspire their program whom Jeff defines as “a special group of people who do a special thing that 99 percent of us can’t do.”
He notes that there are many, many blue bloods in the business community who give what they give for the reward of seeing the smiles on the officers’ faces and the hugs they get when attending PBA events. From all the benevolence generated through all these relationships, Rosen has been inspired to offer words of praise, encouragement and most of all reinforcement to help you continue to stand your ground.
Law enforcement are the sheep dogs protecting the sheep from the wolves,” he recites.
Let’s put that on a T-shirt.