MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Police Chief Jimmy DeVaul officially dropped “acting” from his title as he took the oath of office at the April 17 Township Committee meeting.
DeVaul was officially sworn in as the new police chief by township clerk Liz Fritzen as his wife, Krista, stood beside him. His wife was not the only person there to support him though; the meeting room was full of residents who came to cheer on their new police chief. Also in attendance were several members of Boy Scout Troop 5 of various ages; DeVaul earned the rank of Eagle Scout while he was a member of Troop 5.
“First I want to thank my family, because if it wasn’t for them, I would not be here right now. Next I want to thank the Township Committee for seeing my passion and my vision moving forward,” DeVaul said at the meeting.
Throughout his speech, DeVaul had to pause for several moments to bring his emotions under control. While thanking Fritzen for all of her dedication and hard work, he joked that the two of them had made a bet about who was going to cry first. “I think it’s you,” Fritzen called out, to which DeVaul replied, “Yep.”
DeVaul also credited some of his success to retired Sgt. Mike Morrison, whom he called “my guidance and my mentor throughout this whole process.”
According to DeVaul, he simply had too many friends and supporters in the room to name everyone individually. However, he did single out Lt. Kevin Kisch, who also applied for the chief position, as well as Walter Fields of the SOMA Black Parents Workshop and TJ Whitaker of the MapSO Freedom School, with whom he said he is working to correct some of the race issues that currently plague the department.
He was of course referring to the July 5, 2016, incident — which led to the removal of his predecessor — in which Maplewood police used excessive force on rowdy teenagers, many of whom were persons of color.
“To SOMA Action and SOMA Justice, I want you to know that I’ve been listening to you and I look forward to working together with you,” DeVaul said.
DeVaul also touted the department’s new police chaplains program and praised Rev. Brenda Ehlers, with whom he has collaborated on a juvenile restorative justice initiative.
“It was her passion and my idea to create a juvenile restorative justice initiative,” DeVaul said. “We are going to change the way juvenile justice is done in this town and hopefully we can make it a model for the state.”
All in all, DeVaul hopes to effect real change in the department, though he acknowledges that shifting the department’s attitudes and behaviors will be a difficult process.
“I’m humbled to be standing here right now. I do not take it for granted at all,” he said, so overcome with emotion that he was barely able to speak. “The officers who I work with know how passionate I am and I look forward to moving forward with them. I’ve been very upfront with my officers about the changes that I plan and it’s understandably (going to be difficult) because we haven’t had change in 17 years, so that doesn’t come easy, but we’re going to do it together. I’ve made a commitment to restore the faith and trust in our police department and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I’m going to start by putting the members of our community first.”
Photos Courtesy of Maplewood Township and Jimmy DeVaul