2013-01-31 / Front Page
New Helmetta police director no stranger to public safety
Bennett is also the borough’s fire chief and OEM director
Bennett, already overseeing the fire department, the fire marshal’s office and the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), was recently appointed as borough police director.
He is in charge of a police department that — with the expected additions of two Class II officers and the return of an officer who has been on leave due to an injury — will have seven full-time officers covering the less-than-one-square-mile town.
As police director, Bennett oversees the day-to-day operations of the police force.
Unlike a police chief and despite his 23-year career with the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office, Bennett does not serve as a sworn officer of the department.
Bennett has extensive experience in public safety after a career as a corrections officer, parole officer and veteran of the county sheriff’s office.
Bennett spent the last nine years of his career with the sheriff’s office as a supervisor, commanding the Urban Areas Security Initiative’s Rapid Deployment Team from 2007 until his retirement on April 1.
He also served as the department liaison to the Middlesex County Counter Terrorism Task Force from 2004 to 2012 and was the county’s sole instructor in the areas of homeland security, incident command and response, hazardous materials, and radiological awareness, in addition to several other publicsafety and counterterrorism subjects.
Bennett also has experience writing federal grants to benefit the borough’s fire department.
In addition to writing grants, Bennett authored a book, “Cross Training for First Responders,” which was published in 2010.
He also works as a consultant, specializing in emergency response training.
In an interview with Greater Media Newspapers, Bennett outlined his short- and longterm goals as well as the challenges facing the department.
“I [want] our department to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining,” he said. “That’s a big, big goal of mine. I’m giving myself two years so this [department] can be on autopilot.”
In addition to getting the department to be self-sufficient, he hopes to standardize record keeping and provide more thorough training for his officers.
Helmetta has no significant crime issues, which gives Bennett more reason to make sure his officers are fully trained and prepared.
“We don’t have fatal accidents, we don’t have pedestrians getting hit,” he said. “So when it does happen, I need the guys to know how to handle [such incidents].
“I’ve been in town for 15 years and I think we’ve had two fatal [accidents]. So if you weren’t the officer working those two years, you could have been here 15 years and never filled out the paperwork for a fatal accident,” he added. “Those are perishable skills, so I need to keep the guys trained and refreshed.”
He noted that with such a small department, it is a challenge sending officers for training even when the training is free.
“Right now I only have four guys working,” he said. “It’s tough for me to send someone to a 24-hour class, because now I have to bring in someone else for 24 hours of overtime to cover.”
To that end, he hopes to rely on his own expertise as well as those of the many contacts he made in his career of public safety.
Additionally, he hopes a new schedule utilizing flextime will further facilitate training opportunities for his officers.
Bennett is also looking to update the department’s standards of operation and work to get them digitized.
Other goals include pursuing equipment upgrades, some of which he hopes to finance through grant funding.
While he acknowledged having so many hats in the borough is a challenge, he was eager to accept the additional role.
“Since I’ve been here, periodically the cops would stop by my house because they knew my background, and vent,” he said. “At some point I decided, instead of dispensing advice, why I don’t just do it for them. I’m not saying they wouldn’t do it right; it’s just hard when you have such a small agency.”
Mayor Nancy Martin said that based on Bennett’s experience, she’s confident he will perform well as police director.
“Mr. Bennett has been our fire chief and deputy OEM coordinator for years and has been an asset to the borough of Helmetta,” Martin said. “Mr. Bennett recently retired from the [county] sheriff’s department and comes to our department with years of experience. We are confident Mr. Bennett will get our department where it needs to be.”
Contact James McEvoy at email@example.com.