We live in a world where far too often, people are quick to judge what they see of the police on television. Sure, at times, the criticisms of cops are justified, especially if there’s been an abuse of power. Yet for the most part, police officers are among the hardest-working people you’ll ever know. And their work is done under the most intense pressure and stress — things ordinary citizens could never even begin to imagine.
With that in mind, we decided to offer our readers a look into the work of a police officer we know well — Det. Sgt. Anthony Montanari, of the Nutley Police Department’s Detective Bureau. Montanari is also the department’s publicinformation officer, a role he’s had, on and off, for many years.
Each week, usually on Fridays, Montanari sends an email to members of the local media with a series of reports — some arrests, some about identity thefts, some about suspicious characters and then some. We then turn around the reports into what you read each week on the pages of this newspaper and on our website — more simply, the Nutley blotter.
But for Montanari, who first joined the NPD in 1999 as a cadet, two years before the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — life in the Nutley Police Department is so much more than gathering crime reports for members of the media.
It was 16 years ago …
In 1999, Montanari was appointed to the NPD by former Chief Robert DeLitta and former Police Commissioner Carmen Orecchio. When he graduated the police academy in 2000, he was immediately assigned to the midnight shift, something most rookies get.
He wasn’t even on the job for two years when the attacks happened. Nothing was the same thereafter.
“The type of incidents generally are different on each shift,” Montanari said. “Midnights were considered slow until a job came in, which was usually more serious than other shifts. I was completing the midnight shift on Sept. 11, 2001, when the terrorist attacks took place.
“Following this unprecedented turn of events, many drastic changes took place within the department and departments throughout the country. Many new policies and procedures were put into place and these events have changed the way police performed their jobs.”
Indeed, they have.
With the post 9/11 changes — and as time progressed — Montanari has worn numerous hats with the NPD — and that’s normal, he says, for smaller departments. Because of that, he’s been able to assume some very important responsibilities.
“I was fortunate enough to be sent to several motor vehicle investigative courses, which enabled me to become one of the department’s crash investigators,” Montanari said. “This particular training necessitated that on serious and fatal motor-vehicle accidents, I would be called to investigate, to ensure that evidence of wrong-doing was not sacrificed.
“During my years of investigating crash scenes, I have witnessed, firsthand, fatalities, severe injuries and required that I view many autopsies as well as making death notifications to family. Additionally, I am one of only two arson investigators in the police department.”
Montanari’s successes as a patrol officer led to him being made a detective around 2003, after just three years on the job. It was a huge change, he says, going from midnight tours in uniform to an afternoon tour in plain clothes.
“I was a detective of the Juvenile Division for the next eight years and was liaison between the school district and the police department,” Montanari said. “It was very rewarding.
This assignment enabled me to familiarize myself with the children in our community, as well as their parents. The position carried with it the opportunity to make impressions and encourage young people to stay away from negative behaviors.”
While in the Juvenile Bureau, Montanari instituted the department’s first-ever Junior Police Program. The kids in the program would often leave town to visit places with a strong law enforcement presence, such as Newark Airport to visit with customs officers, the U.S. Coast Guard in Bayonne for a visit with Coast Guard officers and a tour of a cutter on the New York Harbor, a trip to the Bergen County Fire Academy and even trials in Newark.
Promotion to sergeant
In 2012, Montanari left the DB when he was promoted to the rank of sergeant. He says it was “different” to be back out on the streets, in uniform, as a road supervisor. Just a year later, however, he was reassigned back to the DB as a detective-sergeant, where he resumed the role of public-information officer where he was also assigned to investigate adult-related crimes.
He says no two days are ever close to being the same, but that’s part of what makes his job so enjoyable. But he says too often, because of Nutley’s small-town nature, residents get complacent, thinking they’re never going to experience crime.
“Like the old game show ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’ we never really know what’s behind each curtain when we arrive at work,” he said. “Policing in a small town like Nutley leads people to believe this is a safe community and no serious crime takes place here. The misnomer that it can’t happen here or to me, is sometimes unsettling. Yes, it can happen here and we hope every day that it doesn’t.
“This job brings you from 0 to 60 several times a week. The emotional rollercoaster does take a toll on most police officers — and many become ill from this type of erratic stress.”
But that doesn’t make the job less desirable, he says.
Over his career, Montanari recalled numerous cases he investigated that were memorable. Among the more unusual cases, he says, was an investigation about a 12-year-old girl who insisted a stranger jumped into her bed whilst she was sleeping. He and other members of the department, at first, were sure the girl was simply recalling a dream.
But a dream it hardly was.
“She told us that he smelled like beer and felt a cold knife on her leg,” Montanari said. “Initially, all officers responding thought she had had a nightmare, so we reviewed what she watched on television before going to sleep. The story seemed so unlikely that many within the department were certain it never happened and were about to close the investigation.
“The following day, I received a call from another tenant claiming that a party within the building had shaved their beard after we canvassed, looking for a scruffy 60-year-old. The man was called into headquarters where he adamantly denied involvement. Detectives interviewing him did such a wonderful job that he ultimately admitted to entering the apartment and climbing in bed with the young girl. Is this a story which had a good ending? The girl was not molested or harmed in any way.”
He also recalled a lighter moment — an instance where he went flying, yet not on a plane.
“From heart wrenching to comical, my now-retired Chief John Holland once told me, ‘Police work is the front row seat to life,’” Montanari said. “We see people at their most vulnerable. After working here for almost 16 years I can attest that some jobs cannot be spoken about, while others draw a good laugh.
“I remember taking restraints off a young lady who promised me she was calm, and immediately after doing so, I took an onslaught of her swings, kicks and punches, which drew laughs from my co-workers. The woman who was only about 5-feet tall and about 100 pounds. She put on quite a show for them to watch as I tried to re-secure the cuffs.”
Unfortunately, not all incidents have a happy ending. Most aren’t even remotely comical.
“Sadly, I remember being first on scene when a car driven by three young adults crashed into a Park Ave. tree,” Montanari recalled. “Two of the occupants were dead on scene and one survived. From the response, crash investigation, autopsy and notification of their deaths to their parents, it will always be scarred in my memory. I can recall the conversation with the parents as if it were yesterday, which still brings a lump to my throat.”
Still, for the most part, it’s the good outcomes — and the positive moments — that stand out most. And it’s why Montanari’s confident the overwhelming majority of cops are good cops.
“Police are regular people, but at times, we are expected to be lawyers and apply the law correctly every time, to be compassionate yet firm, understanding and fair,” Montanari said. “Like any other job or profession, some police officers are better than others, and as to be expected some may not always do the right thing or things the right way. Acknowledging this, I strongly believe all have good intentions and want to have a good relationship with the public.”
A patient wife, a patient family
Being a cop, while it has its perks, could really cause family life to suffer. But in Montanari’s case, family life hasn’t suffered.
“My wife is so supportive and so understanding,” Montanari said. “I remember how cranky and irritable I was, particularly when on night shift, and she was so understanding. I look back and wonder why she stuck around? I am not sure what would have happened had I not had the most supportive wife in the world.”
Learn more about the writer ...
Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.