Police chief discusses what it really means to be an officer

Photo Courtesy of the GRPD
GRPD Chief Sean Quinn

GLEN RIDGE, NJ — For Glen Ridge Police Chief Sean Quinn, the most important factor in public safety is the trust his officers can create and maintain with borough residents. For him, this bond is paramount. According to Quinn, the majority of borough arrests happen because of what residents see, hear and share with law enforcement.

“My main focus is community policing,” he said in a telephone interview this week, “so that people can trust us with any information they give us.”

A way for a department to develop that trust, he said, is to have officers of various interests and backgrounds. If someone thinking of a career in police work were to ask him for his opinion, Quinn said he would tell them not to get an undergraduate degree in law enforcement.

“I’d advise anyone to get a degree in something else, to give them a different perspective,” he said.

For example, Quinn said, the GRPD has an officer who is an electrical engineer. Certainly, he continued, it would be good for anyone, especially someone with an electrical problem, to know an electrical engineer. But looking at it through the lens of police work, if an electric line goes down, having this particular officer respond to that incident to speak with affected residents is an opportunity to build a relationship.

“Residents get to see the human side of an officer,” he said. “It helps establish trust.”
Quinn, 40, was speaking from experience. He was appointed chief this past June.

He is a Glen Ridge High School graduate, class of 2000; two of his uncles were in law enforcement — one a retired NYPD detective and the other a retired GRPD captain. Quinn was attracted to a police career, but, influenced by his father, he studied science. Thinking to combine this with law enforcement and become a forensic scientist, he attended Montclair State University, majoring in biology with a minor in law. But after graduation, working for Novartis Pharmaceuticals, he came to realize that indoor lab work did not suit him. He wanted to be outside.

While later teaching undergraduate chemistry at John Jay College and attending John Jay for a master’s degree in forensic science, he learned the GRPD had openings for officers. He applied, was tested and was hired in 2007.

“My mentality is to help people before something happens,” Quinn said. “I know it’s a cliche, but I wanted to help people.”

Still, while a police officer with a different perspective could help to build neighborhood trust, there is certainly more to being a good cop.
“Police work is definitely a job for which you have to have a passion,” Quinn said. “You just can’t walk into a job like this. You need integrity to gain the public’s trust, courage for some situations you’ll confront and compassion because you’ll wear a countless number of hats. It all depends on the call you receive.”

Starting out, Quinn was under the supervision of Sgt. Robert Zeuner, whom he knew as an assistant football coach at GRHS. The GRPD chief at the time was John Magnier. Zeuner died in 2013 at the age of 47. A borough tree and rock are dedicated to him, as are No Shave Novembers, a GRPD charitable endeavor. Quinn said Zeuner was the supervisor who influenced him the most.

“I tried to model myself after him,” he said. “He was a friendly guy, knew everyone, but was there when times got tough.”

According to a commemorative volume published by the Glen Ridge Bicentennial Committee, the GRPD was formed in 1895 with a staff of three marshals, which increased to seven by 1912. In 1931, it moved into its present quarters, and in 1976, the year of the bicentennial, the department had 26 officers. The department currently has 23 officers, including three women.

Quinn’s initial goal as chief was to have the department accredited by the NJ Chiefs of Police Association, and this was achieved, for the first time, in October. He said the GRPD had to revamp its policies and procedures to gain approval. To keep accreditation, approval must be conferred every three years, to show the department is committed to the most modern policing standards.

But perhaps closer to his ultimate vision, Quinn, who is married with three children, is looking forward to community policing events to resume.

“It’s tough now, with the pandemic,” he said. “But we’ll be getting all the officers out there and getting the community to know and trust us.”

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