The first recorded history of the Mount Laurel Police Department occurred in 1938. This was sixty-six years after the incorporation of Mount Laurel Township. However, this force was only in existence for seven months. An old, anonymously written news article sheds light on this early brief history.
January 1st, William T. Nardin was elected to the Township Committee. Upon his urging, the Committee created the police force and named Nardin the first Director of Public Safety. At that time, a budget of $1000 was established for three “special” officers, one of which was always on call.
The first officers appointed to the department:
Charles C. Garwood – Chief of Police, Hired 6/1/1939
Tony Panarello – Patrolman, Hired 6/2/1939
Thomas Perllingiero – Patrolman, Hired 6/3/1939
Two more officers were added to the Department.
Isadore Widetski – Patrolman
Frank L. Thompson – Patrolman
Reserve Officer (Served in an on call capacity)
All officers hired were sent to Woodbury for a 16-week training period trained by the New Jersey State Police.
The men were sworn in on June 1st, after the training period was completed. In addition to being expected to risk life and limb, the officers had to buy their own uniforms, operate their own cars, buy their own gasoline and oil and make their own repairs.
For their service, they were promised $100 to split among themselves at the end of the year. After seven months of service, the Township Committee voted to eliminate the police force by a vote of 2 to 1. William Nardin was the lone supporter of the Department.
Full-time Police Force reactivated by Township Resolution.
The police department was reorganized and Constable Tony Panarello was named as Chief of Police.
Police headquarters was located at the residence of Chief Panarello on Church Road in the Fellowship section of the Township.
Four officers were hired.
The first police cars were two new 1956 Chevrolets.
The vehicles were solid black in color with four on the floor. Each had a single red-light mounted on the roof and plain
The police station was later moved to Old Farmers Hall located at Moorestown Mount Laurel and Hainesport Mount Laurel Roads. It consisted of a small corner office on the bottom floor of the building.
The 2nd floor of the building was a meeting room where town business and municipal court sessions were held. Throughout the 1950’s, the community remained a quiet rural and residential area consisting mostly of farms with horses, cattle and crops.
The calls for service mostly involved traffic accidents, disorderly person calls, domestic disputes, calls for loose horses and cows on the roadway.
First Mount Laurel Dispatcher
The phone was controlled by a toggle switch located at the Farmers Hall that switched calls to the Moorestown Police Department while the station was unmanned.
Calls for police service were dispatched through Moorestown Police dispatcher. The dispatcher would log incident cards for Mount Laurel Police Department calls for service.
The duties of the officers expanded to include crime prevention and public relations details such as lecturing in the schools and performing bank escorts for merchants.
The 1960’s began new growth within the Department with the hiring of several new officers.
Officers carried a nightstick, a 6” Colt .38 cal. Revolver, handcuffs and Remington Pump 12 ga. Shotguns, Billy club and Sap gloves
The uniform consisted of a grey tailored shirt with a triangular patch on the left arm, electric blue tie, dark blue trousers and matching electric blue striping with a dark blue blouse and leather gear consisting of a Sam Brown belt with swivel holster and bullet holders.
Each officer was issued 6 winter and 6 summer shirts, 3 winter and 3 summer trousers, a rain coat, rubber boats, rain cover for hat and winter State Police style coat.
By the end of the 1960’s, officers were paid $4,700.00 per year. They worked a rotating schedule 6 days on and 1 day off and rotated shifts on a weekly basis. Officers were required to live in town. The on-duty officer picked up the relief for the next shift. If no relief was available, the on duty officer worked the entire next shift.
Two Special Officers were hired to man crossing guard posts and traffic details.
Nick Melso: Masonville section
Clarence West: Fellowship section
The police station and the office of the Police Chief was still one small room with a desk on the first floor of Farmers Hall. This office was used for everything including processing prisoners and writing reports.
The six officers had lockers on the first floor, but rarely used them since they reported to work in uniform from home.
Ernest Severs was the Presiding Municipal Court Judge. There was no prosecutor and there was no such thing as Miranda Warning.
In 1969 Chief Tony Panarello retired. The Department consisted of 12 officers and 4 dispatchers.
In 1969 The Township Committee replaced the Chief of Police with the position of Public Safety Director. Donald Ebert was appointed and later resigned in 1972.
The Police Department began a rapid growth in size in attempt to keep up with the increase of building of Larchmont, Ramblewood Farms and Birchfield developments as well as the population within the Township.
The Police Department’s First Traffic Unit begins.
Radar Equipment was installed in patrol cars.
The Police Department grew to 13 officers including 1 Lieutenant, 2 Sergeants, and 1 Detective.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s prior to the Breathalyzer, those arrested for DWI were taken to Moorestown Police Department where they were given a Drunkometer test.
In 1971 Sgt. Larry Maio and Sgt. Jack Rizer were the first officers in the Mount Laurel Police Department to be trained on the Breathalyzer.
The Breathalyzer 900 was the first instrument used in Mount Laurel to detect alcohol. The model 900 and 900A were used until October 2005 when they were replaced with the model MKIII Alcotest used today.
The Municipal Township Budget allocated $300,000 that covered the salaries and expenses.
The Department consisted of a Director of Public Safety, 20 officers, 4 full-time and 1 part-time dispatcher.
The police department had a fleet of 9 vehicles, its own radio equipment (unique for a town of this size) and a control board for burglar alarms.
Director Ebert resigns, Sgt. Larry Maio was appointed as Acting Chief of Police until the Township appointed a Director of Public Safety in 1972.
On May 25, 1973 Major Howard Graff (NJSP-Retired) assumed position as Director of Public Safety) Major Graff moved on to Long Branch Police Department in 1979. Major Graff was credited with setting up Police Records and filing systems within the Police Department.
First Traffic Unit
K-55 Radar units were put in patrol vehicles.
Police Uniform changes from grey tailored shirts and triangle patch to dark blue shirt and blue and white badge emblem.
1979 Department Photo
The Township continues to grow and the Police Department now has 29 Officers.
Saunder Weinstein is appointed Director of Public Safety on 01/02/1980.
Beginning of the Mount Laurel Police Department Tactical Team
Ptl. Michael Dugan-1st Team Leader
First Bullet Proof Vests Issued to officers and were donated by The Mount Laurel Rotary.
First Police Emergency Medical Technician Unit began
First K9 Unit
Ptl. Joseph Mastrangelo and his K-9 Partner Bullet were the first appointed officers.
The Department, now up to 46 officers included 2 Lieutenants and 4 Sergeants.
First Female Officer Hired
Officer Leah Kaufmann
First Bike Patrol Officers
Def-Tech Pepper Mace added to the police arsenal and tool belt.
David Haas is promoted to Chief of Police. Chief Haas is the first Chief of Police hired in 26 years, replacing Director of Public Safety.
First Officer hired under COPS / UNIVERSAL HIRE Grants. Grant paid salaries until 2002 and totaled over $750,000.00 in salaries, wages and police equipment.
Senior Education Outreach Committee (SEOC) began and still continues today.
First AED’s (Automatic Electronic defibrillators) in patrol cars.
New Communications Equipment installed
Community Policing Bureau Established
Off. Frank Plunkett 1st Community Policing Officer
First Mobile Data Terminals installed in patrol cars
Start of SAM (Seniors And Mount Laurel) Computer Health Check System begins. This program is still in operation to date.
2000 Department Photo
The complement of the department is 74 Police Officers to include Chief, Deputy Chief, 4 Lieutenants, 10 Sergeants, 4 Detectives and 54 Patrolman. Creation of Deputy Chief and Administrative Lieutenant Positions
First Mobile Video Recorders in Patrol Cars
New Command Vehicle Communications Truck added to fleet.
MEOC – New Winnebago (Mobile Education Outreach Classroom) on Wheels purchased with $123,000.00 Federal Grant to provide Crime Prevention education to the Mount Laurel Community by Officers of the Community Policing Bureau.
October 1, 2004 Dennis Moffett appointed Chief of Police
Department Photo 2004
2005 Ford F-250 4×4: Fully loaded with police package multi purpose Pickup Truck was purchased with a $ 25,000.00 grant through New Jersey Highway Safety. Used for equipment, trailers and portable road barriers.
Police Uniforms Change for the first time since the 1970s from royal blue stripe and blue and white patch to more traditional New Jersey colors of midnight blue and gold.
10/03/2005 the Alcotest Instrument replaces the Breathalyzer.
Community Safety Officer Program (CSO)
The CSO Program began in October 2005. A select group of Officers began training to be placed in Mount Laurel Schools to educate students on Victimization, Personal Safety, Gang Awareness, Drug, Alcohol and Tobacco Dangers as well as Internet Safety.
January 1, 2008 Chief Dennis Moffett Retires.
January 28, 2008 Joseph Lehmann, Jr. promoted to Chief of Police.
April 21, 2008 Christopher Ridings promoted to Deputy Chief of Police.
July 2008 a Traffic Incident Response Unit was acquired through a New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety Grant.
July 1, 2009 Deputy Chief Christopher Ridings Retires.
August 1, 2009 Chief of Police Joseph Lehmann, Jr. Retires. LT Dennis Cribben appointed the acting Chief of Police.
November 9, 2009 The Police Department is awarded Accredidation from the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police. This prestigeous accomplishment represents years of effort and thousands of man hours dedicated to ensure the Department met 112 stringent standards of performance.
January 1, 2010 compliment of officers is 63. Consisting of 1 Acting Chief of Police, 3 Lieutenants and 10 Sergeants. Mount Laurel Police Department Communications Department is staffed by 1 Senior Communications Operator, 7 Full-time Communications Operators and 4 Per-Diem Communications Operators. Clerical staff consist of 1 Confidential Secretary and 6 Clerks. Police Department has 6 Crossing Guards.
March 15, 2010 Dennis A. Cribben, Jr. is promoted to Chief of Police.
July 1, 2010 Unprecidented economic conditions necessitates the transfer of police dispatch responsibility to Burlington County Central Communications, thus, eliminating the Communications Bureau from the Police Department.
September 7, 2010 The police department hires its first Special Law Enforcement Officer since the ’60′s, Officer Kurt Shepherd. Officer Shepherd returned from retirement to accept a position as our evidence custodian and court security officer.