Tototawa, NJ – Over 150 people gathered on Thursday at the New Jersey State Police Headquarters in Totowa to discuss the crucial bond between members of law enforcement and faith-based community leaders, particularly in light of recent violent events that have raised serious security concerns throughout the United States.
New Jersey Attorney General John J. Hoffman gave a riveting speech stressing the importance of strong partnerships between law enforcement and interfaith leaders, a need highlighted by the horrific Charleston church shootings last month and the massive riots that swept through Baltimore in April. Hoffman also noted that cooperation of this nature will benefit both law enforcement and the general population.
Nearly 100 members of law enforcement participated in the meeting. Among those in attendance were Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Callahan, deputy superintendent of operations for the New Jersey State Police, Port Authority deputy superintendent of police Edward Cetnar, Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino, Hudson County Sheriff Frank Schillari, Morris County Sheriff Edward Rochford, Passaic County Sheriff Richard Berdnik, Ocean County Sheriff Michael Mastronardy, Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden, Ocean, Bergen and Passaic county prosecutors and representatives of both the New York State Police and New Jersey State Police. Also present were Steven Gutkin, associated director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security, and federal representatives from the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Attorney’s Office as well as over two dozen faith based leaders representing churches, synagogues and mosques throughout the area.
In his address, Hoffman praised law enforcement for understanding the importance of developing a strong connection with interfaith leaders.
“Without a positive working relationship with faith leaders, it is impossible for law enforcement to do their jobs,” observed Hoffman.
Hoffman noted that the Charleston shooting was a wakeup call, a clear reminder that even houses of worship are potential targets.
Several speakers noted that becoming acquainted with the nuances of large faith based communities is a vital step in building effective and harmonious relationships.
“Gaining an understanding of faith based customs has given me the ability to do my job and run my office better,” said Ocean County prosecutor Joseph Coronato.
“I was surprised to learn the connectivity and outreach the faith based communities have and how they can assist you and make your job easier,” said Al Della Fave, public affairs director at the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.
Both Teaneck and Lakewood, home to thousands of children, were mentioned as examples of large faith based communities, whose residents often interact with law enforcement on the road, in their day to day lives and at mass gatherings, where understanding cultural norms is essential to implementing proper security practices.
The attorney general also touted the success of the state’s gun buyback program, which netted over 800 guns turned into New Jersey churches and mosques and noted that there are protocols in place to reach out to faith based community leaders in the event of any serious acts of violence.
“The New Jersey Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with the State Police, the FBI and the New Jersey Regional Operation Center are in immediate contact with community leaders to let them know to be in a heightened state of alert,” said Hoffman. “These steps are taken by state government to protect faith based communities in New Jersey.”
Lieutenant Brian Polite of the New Jersey State Police Office of Public Affairs expressed his gratitude to the various chaplains in attendance for their efforts on behalf of the NJSP.
“You are there for us, through good times and bad,” said Lieutenant Polite. “Members of law enforcement should realize that working with community leaders not only enhances local security but also allows troopers and members of law enforcement to have the benefit of getting support from the community leaders and chaplains in times of crisis.”
New Jersey State Police chaplain Rabbi Abe Friedman lauded members of government and law enforcement for their continued efforts on behalf of the state’s many interfaith communities.
“Over the years, relationships between community leaders and law enforcement has continued to improve,” said Rabbi Friedman. “I congratulate the government agencies and members of law enforcement for their ongoing efforts and look forward to a long lasting positive and productive relationship for many years to come.”