NJ State Association of Chiefs of Police President Reflects on His Year of Service

Thomas Dellane Tackles Key Issues for New Jersey’s Law Enforcement

June 28, 2023

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–When Thomas Dellane was sworn in as president of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police (NJSACOP) last June, he was already prepared with a list of objectives for his one-year term.

And now, as Dellane is preparing to hand off the president’s gavel to Spring Lake Police Chief Ed Kerr on July 1, there are a number of key issues to be highlighted.

“When you become president of this organization, you need to have a plan in place and be ready to jump into action,” said Dellane, the chief of the Stafford Police Department. “One year goes by very fast. And so I was eager to make an immediate positive impact as president of the association, promote our key issues, and position NJSACOP for future success under Chief Kerr.”

One of Dellane’s top issues is the reform of the state’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA). He has published opinion-editorials in New Jersey media and spoke on podcasts, expressing concern that some profiteers have used the law to misuse public resources, wrangling free research and collecting personal information.

“Lawmakers must recognize that OPRA was signed in January 2002 – at a time before cyberattacks, modern online research tools and rapid advances in technology,” Dellane said. “While concerns about privacy and identity theft have been raised and addressed, OPRA still marches blindly under a mandate from two decades ago. To safeguard the public – and keep law enforcement focused on its main tasks at hand – the state should consider modernizing OPRA, beginning with legislative hearings.”

Dellane has also closely watched the roll-out of the recreational cannabis market in New Jersey, with a keen focus on public safety.  He has been vocal about the need for an amendment to the state law, which would prevent officers from using cannabis off-duty.

“With bills introduced in the state Legislature last May that would prevent police officers from ingesting cannabis during off-hours, we assumed the legislation would be fast tracked to Gov. Phil Murphy, who had indicated an open mind to such an important public safety initiative,” Dellane said.  “To date, to the dismay of many NJSACOP members, this draft legislation has not been signed. Nor have we seen any robust debate on the issue in the halls of Trenton, despite the obvious need to protect the public.”

And, to Dellane’s further exasperation, there has been a recent revision to the Attorney General’s Law Enforcement Drug Testing Policy. It is now decided that New Jersey police officers can no longer be randomly drug tested for marijuana unless they’re suspected of using the drug or being under the influence while on duty, or if their job requires federal drug testing.

“So, not only are police officers allowed to consume cannabis during their off hours and then report to work, they also cannot undergo any testing unless they appear impaired,” he said. “The revised Attorney General guidelines remove an important tool to keep officers accountable to their employing agencies as signs of marijuana use are not always readily apparent. That is of significant concern to the NJSACOP.”

New Jersey now has the distinction of being the only state in the union that does not provide some form of a law enforcement exemption in regard to cannabis use.

The NJSACOP has also focused attention on the uptick of car thefts in New Jersey, advocating for proposed bills in Trenton that increase criminal penalties. Dellane is quick to note that Trenton lawmakers cannot be solely relied upon to fix the problem.

“Local police departments must continue to spread the message about ways in which people can protect their cars, such as parking in well-lit areas, closing the windows, not leaving an idling car unattended and, of course, not leaving the key fob in the cup holder,” Dellane said. “And New Jerseyans should also play an active role, keeping a closer eye on the neighborhood and promptly sharing information in social media groups. Working together, and remaining vigilant, New Jersey can once again make auto theft an outdated crime.”

Dellane’s initiatives also include police licensure, with Gov. Phil Murphy signing a law last July. This licensure law – with a real and transformative impact – will create better officers, better police departments and greater transparency in further underscoring the commitment to protect and serve, he said.

“We are pleased that this new law will help to move law enforcement in New Jersey to the highest level of professionalism through licensure,” Dellane said, noting there needs to be set standards and a due process component that is fair, equitable and transparent to the public.

As president, he also advocates for ongoing state audits for these licenses, thus ensuring that corners are not cut in any New Jersey police department.

“I’m pleased that every `licensed’ police officer in New Jersey must answer to a universal code of conduct, related to such areas as excessive force, criminal convictions or dishonestly in the performance of duty,” Dellane said. “If this code were not followed, the state finally has a licensing authority that can discipline, suspend or terminate the officer, with the information shared nationally.”

Dellane has also supported the expansion of the “ChiefTalk” podcast series through the NJSACOP, in which more than 20 prominent law enforcement leaders have been guests, including himself.  Live podcast interviews will play a central role on the exhibitor floor of the police expo conference, set for June 26-29, in Atlantic City. Previous episodes can be heard here: njsacop-podcast.org