Former Chatham Borough Police Chief John Drake walked to the front of the borough council meeting room on Dec. 14 as loud cheers reverberated throughout the room.
The applause was 31 years in the making. Drake, who had been chief for that long, submitted his resignation last month, and made it official at the borough's Dec. 14 meeting, when its council accepted his retirement.
Councilman James J. Collander read the resolution doing so at the meeting and ran off a list of Drake' accomplishments while doing so: under Drake's tenure, the department became one of seven statewide to receive national accreditation, meaning it must now follow a set of rigorous standards. It also established its first ever motorcycle unit.
"We will miss your expertise," Collander said, just before he asked Drake to come to the front of the room to shake hands with each council member.
In the back of the room, nearly the entire Chatham Borough Police Department contributed to the sound on a night each and every one of them was honored. (For footage, check out the video to the right.)
Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi was on hand during the meeting to present awards to each member of the Chatham Police Department for their role in finding the accused killer of the Rev. Edward Hinds, the pastor at St. Patrick's Church who was found slain Oct. 23 in the church. Former church janitor Jose Feliciano is now in custody after being arrested Oct. 24.
But the night belonged to Drake and to his replacement, Phillip Crosson, who has taken over the chief position on a temporary basis while the department searches for a permanent agency head.
Drake said he is ready for retirement, though he will continue to consult with members of the police department while he is on terminal leave through April 1. After that, his job as department member will be finished.
"I'm not going to miss the job so much as I'm going to miss working with the people within the police department, and also [with the people] up here," Drake said as he pointed to council members and Borough Clerk Susan Caljean.
Drake became a policeman in 1979 and slowly worked his way through the department until he was appointed permanent chief in August 2002.
He said now is the best time for him to step aside. The department has likely just solved a murder case, and at this point, he said, things seem to be relatively uncontroversial and quiet.
"I'm still trying to get my office picked up," he said with a smile during a meeting outside the department entrance the week before he was honored at the meeting. "30 years of tchotchkes."
Meanwhile, Crosson officially became chief at the meeting after he took an oath with his wife and daughter by his side. He credited Drake with making education a priority for department members.
"Chief Drake's always been a good mentor," Crosson said. "He's provided a lot of direcion in the agency."
In the next few months, Drake says he will look to pursue a new position in law enforcement consulting. But he's going to take some time off first to enjoy his new status—one Mayor Nelson Vaughan said "only gets better" as it goes along. Vaughan, a full-time mayor, also recently retired from his full time job.
Still, he said he will continue to get up in the morning to take his son to the train station so he can go to high school. And he said he does not really plan to let up.
"I'm too young not to do something," he said. "I'm going to have to have a reason to get up in the morning."