Chief to leave in ‘16

Photo by Ron Leir Police Chief Joseph Rotonda
Photo by Ron Leir
Police Chief Joseph Rotonda


After more than four decades spent in uniform, Belleville’s highest-ranking cop will be turning in his badge next year.

Belleville Police Chief Joseph P. Rotonda will be retiring from active duty after he reaches 65, which is mandatory retirement age for police in the Garden State.

Although, as of last week, he had yet to file his pension application with the state Department of Treasury, Rotonda told The Observer he expects to do so shortly so that he can leave the department by July 1, 2016.

Rotonda, who grew up in Newark, got his first taste of law enforcement in the Brick City, joining the Newark PD in 1973 and continued with that department before transferring to the Belleville PD on July 14, 1980.

He advanced gradually up the ranks, making sergeant in 1993, captain in 1996, then deputy chief in 1998. In 2000, he was appointed chief of the department during the administration of Mayor Bill Escott, a former Belleville police captain who later, for a year, became head of the Belleville school security force.

When he was named chief, “our current Mayor Ray Kimble, a former police chief, was the township manager then,” Rotonda recalled.

Another former township police chief, Victor Canning, followed the same path, becoming township manager after his uniformed service. Interim Township Manager Kevin Esposito, who replaced Canning in March 2012, said that the chief’s impending departure “will be a big loss for the municipality.”

Asked about Rotonda’s replacement, Esposito said that Mark Minichini, the police department’s only deputy chief, would be the logical choice and that, as the township’s “appointing authority in charge of personnel,” he (Esposito) would be making the selection.

“He’s got more than 25 years of experience in the department,” Esposito said. “He deserves it. He’s a strong leader. We currently have five captains [but] I don’t think anybody on the governing body has hinted toward anyone but the deputy chief” for the top job.

Esposito said that as a means of easing the transition, “I’ve asked our current chief to have the deputy chief sit in on budget discussions so we’re not left in disarray when the current chief retires.”

Moreover, Esposito said, the township “has already called for a [state Civil Service] test for the deputy chief’s position which should be scheduled by April or May so we’re well-positioned for that transition.” And, he said, there would likely be a new captain appointed to fill the vacancy that will likely result with the promotion of one of existing captains to deputy chief.

Asked if the township might consider amending the police department’s Table of Organization to return to three deputy chiefs, Esposito said: “I believe the people of Belleville are wellserved by the current T.O.” In an interview with The Observer, Rotonda said the biggest change he’s experienced in his 40-plus years in law enforcement is the advancement of technology.

“When I started on the job in Newark, it was a big deal when we got walkie-talkies,” the chief said. Before that, if you were on the road, “you’d have to stop by a callbox or a phone booth to contact the precinct. And we had teletypes but there were no surveillance cameras. At least we had air-conditioning in our cars.”

Weaponry, of course, has also been upgraded, from the .38-caliber guns cops used when Rotonda was a rookie to today’s “.40-caliber and on up,” not to mention “tactical equipment like vests, body armor and rifles.”

What “hasn’t changed,” though, the chief said, is “basic police work.”

During the ‘90s, Rotonda said, when federal and state grant programs were plentiful, Belleville applied for – and got – funds to put more cops on the force, boosting the size of the department to more than 100 – a trend that reversed after the national recession hit. Since then, he said, the department has edged closer to its 108-member Table of Organization, although it hasn’t quite kept pace with attrition via retirements.

Keeping with the technology theme, Rotonda said: “I was able to modernize the department with computers in cars, cameras and a new communications center.” And, he added, by the time of his departure, “we’ll be accredited by the N.J. Police Chiefs Association, which means we will have demonstrated mastery of certain objectives which should cut down on lawsuits.”

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