MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The Hilton Neighborhood Association welcomed interim Maplewood Chief of Police Jimmy DeVaul at its monthly meeting on Thursday, Jan. 18, at DeHart Community Center to discuss the changes he has been making in the Maplewood Police Department. Mayor Vic DeLuca also briefly discussed the township’s search for a new police chief.
The search for a permanent chief is ongoing within the MPD, DeLuca said. Officers who have the rank of lieutenant or higher are able to apply for the chief position, and interviews will be conducted after the Jan. 31 application deadline.
According to DeLuca, legal counsel advised the township that it must appoint its next chief from within the department in order to remain compliant with state law.
“We had initially wanted to do a national search (but) there’s a state law,” DeLuca said. “The legal advice that we got is that we’re covered by this law and that requires a promotion from within the police department.”
According to New Jersey Code 40A:14-129, in townships such as Maplewood — according to the town’s legal counsel — “a promotion of any member or officer of the police department or force to a superior position shall be made from the membership of such department or force. Due consideration shall be given to the member or officer so proposed for the promotion, to the length and merit of his service and preference shall be given according to seniority in service. No person shall be eligible for promotion to be a superior officer unless he shall have previously served as a patrolman in such department or force.”
Nevertheless, while in charge of the department, DeVaul hopes to implement certain changes. He detailed the initiatives he has planned while describing the new traffic unit he has implemented in the department.
According to DeVaul — a Maplewood native, Columbia High School graduate and 29-year MPD veteran — being involved in the community is one of the cornerstones of his approach to changing the department.
“I grew up here, I believe it’s my town,” DeVaul told community members at the meeting. “I want to rebuild our trust in the community. Our officers should get out of their cars, talk to people, go into local businesses. I want to change the thinking that when an officer walks in that something is wrong. They should be welcome faces.”
DeVaul addressed questions about the new traffic unit, which focuses on crosswalk enforcement and implementing effective solutions to pedestrian safety. The MPD often gets involved in traffic studies for the town’s engineering department because it has the equipment and resources to do so, according to DeVaul.
“It’s not a Band-Aid,” he said. “When you dedicate the resources you have, it will have an effect and we can move forward.”
Training new officers and recruitment are also at the top of DeVaul’s list of departmental changes. He wants to find police officers with roots in the community who are able to bring a new perspective to the department.
“I’m not looking for the toughest officer in the room,” DeVaul said. “I’m looking for the person who can best serve our needs. Getting outside perspectives into the police department is important.”
Getting such new perspectives also ties into making the department more diverse, another of DeVaul’s missions as chief. He described the growing number of female and black officers, and ranking officers, as well as the handful of officers who, like him, grew up in Maplewood.
“We should be more reflective of the community we represent,” DeVaul said, “and that’s on me. We have to get more involved in recruiting and get more people involved in wanting to serve the community. There’s an entrance exam in March and we want as many people as possible to take that.”
While creating new units and adjusting the MPD to be more effective for Maplewood residents, DeVaul also wants to make sure his officers have the support they need at work. He believes an in-house police chaplain program will provide support for officers who might not otherwise have it.
“I want an external influence on my officers,” DeVaul said. “It’s a stressful job. And often, they keep that stress inside and they don’t tell anybody. This is a resource that they can use when something happens like a death, an illness, anything that might happen where they need support.”
DeVaul said his biggest proposed change to the department is an overhaul of how officers interact with juveniles. He wants to use the MPD and a panel of community members to help keep juveniles from entering the system.
“Integrating a panel of other people, like a coach or other officials who can deal with it better than we would be able to, is better,” DeVaul said. “The truth is that sometimes we’re not the best ones to deal with that. This way we can divert juveniles out of the system before they get into it.”
“I know it’s ambitious,” DeVaul said of the changes he intends to make. “But I’m looking to make a change while I’m here.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic