As deputy chief of the Hazlet Township Police Department, Ted Wittke recently introduced the use of the Neighbors app, which provides real-time crime and safety alerts to users’ mobile devices and fosters interaction with residents.
After today, when he’s formally promoted to replace retiring chief Philip Meehan, Wittke will look to make communication a centerpiece of his stewardship.
“I’ve always been a customer-service oriented person the whole time I’ve been a police officer,” he said, “so we’ll definitely be looking to improve service to our community.”
Hazlet Mayor Mike Glackin called Wittke “a well-organized manager with a tremendous background.”
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Wittke, 46, has lived in Hazlet since age 11. He is a Raritan High School alum who has served with the department since 1999. He is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, a graduate of the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia, and has completed the Certified Public Manager Program at Rutgers University. As someone who helped update the department’s social-media presence, he’s well aware of the civic unrest and police-public tensions in various places since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.
The department recently acquired in-car cameras and body cameras for all 42 police officers — something Wittke sees as an important trust-building tool.
“We have a young agency, as far as years of experience,” he said. “A lot of officers have eight years or less, which makes the job more difficult until they gain experience. They are under the microscope, and with the use of body cams, even more so. We’re constantly reviewing body cams to make sure our officers are acting professionally and appropriately.”
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One of his top priorities is enhancing training on that front.
“Training is something I definitely want to focus on during my tenure as chief,” Wittke said. “New Jersey has some of the best-trained law enforcement in the nation. But we can always improve, and we have to look to do that. In this environment there may be some second-guessing of their decisions by the media and the public.”
Another area of expertise for Wittke, a former undercover member of the Bayshore Narcotics Task Force, is opioids. Public health professionals have expressed concerns about an uptick in drug abuse during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think we’ve seen a small increase during COVID with overdoses,” Wittke said. “We’ve worked pretty closely with Hazlet’s Hope Network — they’ve been helpful in trying to get people treatment. I just finished Rutgers’ certified public manager program, and I’ve been talking to classmates about bringing on some resources that could help when it comes to addiction.”
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In taking the baton from Meehan, Wittke praised the former chief as leaving “some big shoes to fill” and said he’s been preparing for this role for 21 years.
“When it comes to keeping Hazlet safe, my family resides here and it’s something I take personally,” Wittke said. “It’s not just a job to me. I’m part of the Hazlet community.”
Jerry Carino is community columnist for the Asbury Park Press, focusing on the Jersey Shore’s interesting people, inspiring stories and pressing issues. Contact him at [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: New Hazlet police chief: How being a cop is about customer service