Orange police captain receives award for her community work with ADAPT

Orange Police Capt. Tangela Cummings

ORANGE, NJ — For Orange Police Capt. Tangela Cummings, her job is about helping her community. And now that community is saying a big thank-you. Cummings will receive the ADAPT Coalition Member of the Year Award at an ADAPT dinner on Wednesday, May 4, at the Essex County Hospital Center in Cedar Grove.

ADAPT, or Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Team, is a coalition of people who work toward reducing underage drinking and drug abuse in Essex County. Its members include youths, parents, educators, police, substance abuse professionals, faith leaders, government representatives and other concerned citizens.

“Capt. Cummings has been a dedicated public servant throughout her entire 22-year professional life,” ADAPT senior manager Joel Torres told the Record-Transcript. “I had the honor of working with Capt. Cummings several years ago when she was a lieutenant for the Orange Police Department. In every interaction with Capt. Cummings, we’ve been able to perform programming that focuses on all residents of Orange, specifically in programming related to youth and older adults. Before the pandemic, we collaborated on various efforts with local youth to reduce the chances of adults purchasing alcohol for minors. More recently, we’ve worked together on initiatives to expand the collection of old/unused prescription pain medication, specifically with older adults in Orange. Just last month, we collaborated on a successful Student Athlete Town Hall Meeting organized by Capt. Cummings for Orange residents. The town hall meeting educated the community on the risk of opioid use disorder, the risk of prescription medication misuse by recently injured youth athletes, and alternative approaches to pain management. These are just a few of the examples that display the reasoning why Capt. Cummings is deserving of this year’s award.”

According to Torres, Cummings is also an active member of ADAPT’s Prescription Drugs Committee, which focuses on planning and implementing strategies to reduce and prevent prescription medication misuse/abuse in Essex County. She is also involved in the Brown Bag Event, in which ADAPT works with law enforcement and local pharmacists to visit seniors to educate them on prescription medication misuse/abuse, and in the Wellness Initiative for Senior Education Program, which is a six-week, evidence-based curriculum program for older adults to teach them healthy living styles and alternative approaches to pain management.

“My first introduction to the ADAPT Coalition was working together to host an informative discussion with parents and students about the consequences of engaging in the use of illicit drugs. During this project, it was essential to better equip parents with information to help them recognize signs of drug use,” Cummings told the Record-Transcript, highlighting her recent work with the WISE Program. “I facilitated a Zoom call, which consisted of members of the ADAPT Coalition, OPD Community Service Division and managers from Orange Township senior facilities. 

“Also, my division oversees the collection and proper disposal of unused or expired medications throughout the city of Orange,” she continued. “National (Prescription) Drug Take Back Day, hosted by the DEA, will be held on Saturday, April 30, beginning at 10 a.m. We are currently partnering with the Reach for Recovery mobile unit to bring sexual health awareness and drug prevention to our youth.”

According to Cummings, ADAPT members genuinely want to make a difference for seniors and youths in the community. 

“Their dedication to keeping the public well-informed about the misuse of prescription drugs … speaks volumes,” Cummings said. “I had an opportunity to observe (ADAPT coordinator) Hector Perez and (prevention specialist) Alexis Raymond during a session of the WISE curriculum at a senior facility in East Orange. They were passionate about how they interacted with the seniors. You knew it was more than a job. I hope the ADAPT Coalition continues to shine a bright light in areas that could become dark if left without options.”

In addition to seeing the impact her colleagues make in the community, Cummings has been blessed to see the difference she makes, as well.

“I started my journey in law enforcement 22 years ago. During that time, there have been many occasions I think I have made a difference in someone’s life,” Cummings said. “I show empathy and compassion towards others. This has been displayed throughout my journey. It could be a fellow co-worker who approaches me and states, ‘I still remember when I came on the job, how you encouraged me and told me I could make it.’ It could be when I responded to a call of service when a high school student refused to go to school because she didn’t have the proper uniforms to wear and she felt embarrassed. After I cleared the call, I went to Forman Mills on Main Street and purchased her three polo-style shirts and three pairs of pants. It could simply be the many Megan’s Law registrants who thank me for not judging them and remaining professional. It could be a missing juvenile who was returned to their home safely and the sigh of relief upon the parent or reporting person’s face. It could be the opportunities I had to speak to former students of the Orange High School or Orange Middle School as adults; to hear them recall how I treated them or made them feel when I was a school resource officer makes me know that I have positively impacted their lives. For that, I am grateful.”

Torres lauded Cummings for her dedication and her drive to go above and beyond for the community. 

“Law enforcement partners, like Capt. Cummings, are a tremendous resource to assist with the prevention of substance use within communities because they focus on innovative community-driven strategies to find the root causes of problems impacting our communities,” Torres said. “For example, we’ve worked closely with our law enforcement partners to expand permanent prescription medication disposal sites located within police departments in Essex County. Partners like Capt. Cummings don’t just stop there. They go into the community to educate (residents) on the risks of medication misuse/abuse and meet them where they are to collect any old or unused medications. They expand upon a just policing model to enhance efforts by meeting people where they are, finding out the problems they are dealing with, and connecting them with services and resources to support their needs. We’ve done a lot with partners like Capt. Cummings over the past 10 years to expand restorative justice efforts and enhance rehabilitation services for individuals dealing with substance-use disorders.”

Orange officials agree with Torres that Cummings is deserving of this accolade.

“Capt. Tangela Cummings exemplifies the values of the Orange Police Department: integrity, professionalism and a passion for social justice,” Police Chief Vincent Vitiello said.

“Captain Cummings’ tireless efforts to fight drug and alcohol abuse have been recognized by ADAPT, an organization dedicated to reducing underage drinking and drug use abuse throughout Essex County. We’re all proud of her,” Police Director Todd Warren said.

“Capt. Cummings has raised the bar of service in the cause of preventing drug and alcohol abuse in our community,” Mayor Dwayne D. Warren said. “We celebrate her service to our residents both as a member of our law enforcement and as a member of ADAPT.” 

But Cummings was quick to shift a portion of the credit to her colleagues.

“I feel honored to be recognized for simply doing what I believe is my job. Please keep in mind that nothing is done by me alone. The Community Service Division is small in numbers; however, we are a team. The work that is being recognized results from having the support of Director Todd Warren and Chief Vincent Vitiello,” Cummings said. “Also, collaborating with other groups with common goals, such as the ADAPT Coalition and Reach for Recovery, we will continue to bring our resources together to develop new and innovative initiatives that address the needs of the city of Orange Township residents.

“My initial reaction to finding out that I was a recipient of this year’s award was simply a feeling of gratitude,” she continued. “To be in a position to stand side by side with some of this year’s recipients felt amazing. The ultimate reward for me is to be a part of the solution.”