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Hennelly Ready to be Chief After 25 Years in Chatham

The new chief of police has spent almost his entire career in Chatham Township.

When Steven Hennelly took the oath of office that made him chief on Feb. 14, he did so in front of all his family — even his parents, who came for the first time to watch him get sworn in.

"They haven't been to any of my promotions, but they always said if I got promoted to chief, they'd come," he said. 

Hennelly has spent more than 25 of his 28 years in law enforcement with the Chatham Township Police Department. After serving under five of the township's 10 police chiefs, he became the 11th person to lead the department since 1927. It can be a daunting role, especially given the reputations of past chiefs.

"[Chief] Russ Bey was the kind of guy that in a snow storm, if you were going to have a baby, the nearest hospital I think was in Newark. He would come to your house and drive you to Newark in a snow storm," Hennelly said.

Living and institutional memory in the township goes back a long, long time. Hennelly said after his promotion was announced, one man who knew Bey personally came by the department to offer his congratulations.

Hennelly, though, looks forward to his new role. "I felt more pressure as a lieutenant," he said. For four years Hennelly was the department's only lieutenant, in a department that used to have three lieutenants and a captain.

"I took on all those responsibilities as a lieutenant," he said. "I found myself doing more work at home on my days off." That work included commanding patrol divisions, managing internal affairs and public information and coordinating training, payroll, personnel scheduling, contractor billing, reports and buildings and grounds management.

When Hennelly was promoted to chief, he recommended the department shift to a two-lieutenant system. Maureen Kazaba and Thomas Miller were in turn promoted to lieutenants, and will split the lieutenant's workload between them. "It was a lot of work. Distributing it between two people will make it a lot easier, especially as we move towards accreditation this year."

Hennelly also looks forward to expanding the community policing program which his predecessor, Chief John Paton, started. The project requires a bit of a subtle hand, he said.

"Community policing in this town isn't one where we're going to go into a neighborhood and clean it up, push out the drug dealers and the prostitutes," he said. "It's more of a communication interaction, email, phone calls, those types of things."

This increased communication between residents and police will help police respond to every day issues and, in the case of major emergencies such as Superstorm Sandy, create a triage list of which neighborhoods and residents will need police assistance first.

"We've learned from prior storms," Hennelly said. "These storms will not catch us off-guard anymore."

Hennelly also wants to start a police initiative with senior citizens in town, "especially in light of the recent scam," he said. "I have elderly parents, and my mom tells me she gets a couple of phone calls a week from people looking for something. It makes you wonder how many people in town have fallen victim that we don't know about."

As for a more personal challenge to his new role, Hennelly said he's going to learn to "choose [his] words carefully. ... If you're a lieutenant and you get in trouble, it's page six. If you're chief and you get in trouble, you're front page with a big picture." Now he knows he is "representing the entire town from a law enforcement standpoint," not just himself or the department.

And after 25 years with the department, which Hennelly said he wouldn't change for the world, he knows it's a big responsibility. "This is the ultimate recognition for a job well done, having people have the confidence in you to sit in this seat and lead this department," he said.

Hennelly was trained by the New Jersey State Police Academy and has a degree in criminal justice pending from Thomas Edison State College. He has received three Investigation Awards from the Morris County Prosecutor's Office, two from the Morris County Detective's Association and nine awards from the department, plus other certificates and recognitions of distinguished, meritorious and honorable service.

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