In defense of the police 

As anyone reading my letters to the editor would tend to believe, it’s obvious I’m pro-police, and I make no apologies for my beliefs. It is my opinion, because of my training and extensive law enforcement background and associations, that I’m one of the most qualified individuals in the township to give opinions in reference to police matters.

A number of issues have been printed by Montclair Local, which I was responsible for and instituted under my watch, which I would like to clarify.

In 1993, as Montclair’s newly appointed chief of police, I took it upon myself to change the Montclair police patch from the old black-and-orange patch (drab) to the current, more vibrant blue-and-gold patch, both with an emblem of a Lenape Indian holding a spear. This was done to build pride for the men and women wearing this new patch of their police department.

The original settlers in the mountainous area of Upper Montclair were the Lenape Indians; the names of such places as Watchung and Yantacaw (place of dancing) bear witness to their heritage.

Azariah Crane and his wife, Mary Treat Crane, and their son Nathaniel built a home in 1694 near the intersection of Orange Road and Myrtle Avenue. Cranetown came into being when Dutch settlers acquired land legally from the Lenape, which was confirmed by the British government in 1700.

By 1800, Cranetown was transformed and became known as a commercial center.

The most decisive event of the time in the emergence of Montclair was the coming of the railroad in 1856. In 1860, because of its marked identity, a group of influential residents persuaded the post office to adopt the name of Montclair. 

By the opening of the 20th century, a richly diverse population characterized the community. Between 1890 and 1930, a new influx of New Englanders, African Americans from the South, Irish, Germans, Italians and Scandinavians — including masons, bricklayers, carpenters and laborers — built the great mansions and the more modest homes in what is now known as Upper Montclair.

As the creator of the new Montclair police patch, I had all the best intentions to represent the men and women of the Montclair Police Department, with no malice towards the Lenape, only to honor them as the first settlers of Montclair, by keeping their logo. I resent any changes to alter history that I was part of and responsible for.

History is history, good or bad. We must learn from it, not destroy it.

Secondly, I respectfully disagree with the well-written opinion by a Montclair High School student in the Aug. 6 Letters to the Editor section (“Take police out of public schools”).

I believe the writer means well. However, today’s worldwide climate with terrorists, emotionally disturbed people and just people for whatever reason holding grudges against an establishment, individual or society — and the history of school shootings across the U.S. — justify cops in schools.

During my tenure, I was ahead of the curve, establishing the “Cops in School” program, placing a uniformed police officer in the high school. Armed police officers in the school should not be considered a threat, but instead as the first line of defense against an armed person terrifying and killing students and teachers.

Finally, in order to “serve and protect,” law enforcement officers have the freedom and obligation to speak out against injustice. Maintaining a semblance of public safety and order for the communities they serve is challenging in today’s society. In recruiting applicants for the position of police officer, I would look for a candidate to have courage and good judgment, and the motivation to be helpful and serve the public.

In a past letter, I mentioned training, experience and competence as solid attributes, to help avoid selecting an individual with psychological and emotional issues leading to a dominating, aggressive personality outlet for macho behavior including brutality and violence in a potential arrest or shooting situation.

Recruitment, training and experience go hand-in-hand in preventing a police officer from shooting a suspect running away from them in the back unless the suspect is armed and shooting back at the officer.

The public has the power to make law enforcement accountable for their actions. Law enforcement is our first line of defense in protecting our citizens, and must be respected and given a fair shake in performing their very difficult sworn duties.



The writer is the retired former chief of police for Montclair Township.


DeCamp needs major reassessment

Last week, privately owned DeCamp bus company, around since the 1800s, became suspended indefinitely due to extremely low ridership as a result of COVID-19. Many people who live in Montclair and surrounding towns have used DeCamp to travel to and from Manhattan in pre-coronavirus times. Though the loss of the bus service may be an inconvenience, DeCamp has struggled very miserably with service quality and employee professionalism in pre-COVID times.

Ever since I was born in 1984, I have been unsatisfied with their service.  The buses would run constantly late and, in many cases, very late. I have ridden the weekend DeCamp 66 route many times. I have been on buses that have departed from the stops in Montclair 30 minutes late and have arrived at the Port Authority Bus Terminal an hour behind schedule. Much of the reason for this is the bus company not building in enough time in their schedules for traffic. On weekend days, there is often a lot of traffic on routes 3 and 495, especially through the Lincoln Tunnel. 

On weekends in better times, DeCamp used two of its buses to handle the hourly weekend schedule with poor time slack. They could have used a third bus to not only help the buses run on time, but also provide twice-an-hour service. For many years, Montclair has been seeing a significant increase in its population. It would be great in the future to have more frequent weekend bus service from Montclair to New York City. The New Jersey Transit weekend rail schedule from Bay Street to Hoboken requires a transfer at Newark Broad Street to head to midtown Manhattan. Plus the service is every other hour, which makes it inconvenient to use. 

The professionalism among many of the employees has to be improved. In a lot of my travels on DeCamp, I have found the personalities among a lot of the bus drivers to be less than stellar. For example, the drivers would talk down to customers for no reason. In addition, there have been drivers who have arrived at stops late on purpose, especially under minimal traffic conditions. 

In order for DeCamp to get a better reputation in the future than what it had in pre-COVID times, they will have to analyze their weaknesses very thoroughly. Improving the timetable can lead to many benefits. In addition, the more professionalism among the drivers, the better experience DeCamp passengers will have. The suspension is a good time for DeCamp to plan for a better future. 

JOHN LEVAI