It might be hard for some residents of Chatham Township to remember a time when John Paton was not an employee of the police department.
"I started as a dispatcher 32 years ago, the first civilian dispatcher," Paton, 56, said. From there he became a patrolman, a detective, a sergeant and finally, in March 2009, the chief of the department.
He retires just shy of four years as chief, which he regards as perfect timing. "Three to five years [as chief] is a good term to do things. Shorter than that you can't get anything done, longer than that you may become stagnant," he said.
In Paton's time with the department, he served under five police chiefs. When he took over the role, he had plans to improve organization and work flow. "It's weird, because I like to be organized here but I'm not like this at home. I think that's just the nature of the job, though," he said. "As chief there's so much going on, and you have your hands in so many things, that if you're not organized things fall through the cracks."
Sometimes, if someone came in to complain about the changes Paton made, he said he would point to a framed poster on his wall of men running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. The caption reads, "Tradition: Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid."
The poster is indicative of Paton's dry sense of humor, which those who have gotten to know him over the years will recognize. There is one other aspect of Paton's personality which also stands out.
"I still enjoy coming to work, I love my job," he said. "But," he reluctantly admits, "I have been here for 32 years and it's time to do something different."
That something different may not look very different. With most of his family, including his three children, in the area, Paton and his wife have plans to travel but not to remove themselves from northern New Jersey.
"I'm staying on as the coordinator of Emergency Management for at least a few months, probably not through the end of the year, but enough to find and train someone," Paton said. "I'm still going to have my hand in things here."
Check back with Chatham Patch Thursday for more on John Paton's retirement from the Chatham Township Police Department.