Chances are you’ve probably met the Kearny Police Department’s new chief. He’s known to come to the scene of crimes — and in his earlier years as a patrolman, he would often walk the town’s streets, getting to know business owners and residents alike.
But now, after 32+ years on the job — his first day was Jan. 1, 1985 — veteran George King is Kearny’s new police chief.
And it was almost as if he was destined to one day become the department’s top cop, considering he spent a lot of time in the chief’s office as a patrolman, sergeant and lieutenant.
King was an assistant to the chief going back to the early ‘90s when Chester Bielski was chief.
King says Bielski learned he had an accounting degree, so he invited him to be a part of his office.
“It was around the time of the first Gulf War,” King told The Observer. “He knew I had the degree in accounting, so I was able to assist him with budgets, payroll. It gave me a chance to see a different side of the police department — the business side.”
This all came after King spent several years on foot patrol and time in a radio car as both a regular officer and as an accident investigator.
Though he enjoyed that work, King says the opportunities Bielski gave him — and subsequent chiefs gave him — helped mold him for his new role as chief.
“Chet Bielski was old school, an old school kind of cop,” King recalled of the late former chief who served until around 1994, before retiring. “He was such a good man. As chief, he would let me make decisions, but would sometimes give his opinion when needed. But he was always a personable guy — and he wanted to know what was going on in my life.”
King says Bielski was his mentor — and even well after he retired as chief, more than two decades ago, he still kept in touch with him up to his untimely death on Jan. 22, 2012.
“Even after he retired, when I was deputy chief, we’d talk on the phone three, four times a year,” King recalled of his mentor. “You knew when he called you needed at least an hour or you’d have to say, ‘chief, can’t talk now.’ I was just very fortunate to have learned a lot in that position about budgeting, payroll, pension, health benefits.
“I was fortunate.”
But it wasn’t just Bielski who saw leadership qualities in King as a younger officer. He served in similar positions under subsequent chiefs who followed Bielski — including Chiefs John O’Neill, Tom Wilgus, Tim Sharples and John Dowie. (King also served under one other chief, Bill Komer, when he first got on the job.)
Though Bielski was his mentor, King gives a lot of credit to the other chiefs he served under, too, for helping to shape him into the cop he is today.
“Each exposed me to different styles of leadership,” King said. “I was fortunate to learn from each of them — and how each had a different way of doing things.
Police challenges of today
We asked King if he saw any major challenges facing him as he begins his second full week as being chief.
Fortunately, he says, the retiring Dowie left a very well run police department. But, as most law-enforcement agencies can attest — especially over the last five years — he knows the KPD and law enforcement in general must still deal with a usually skeptical public.
“It’s a problem across the country,” King said. “But here in Kearny, we are fortunate because we have a supportive community here. We have a mayor and council that is behind us. But we still have to work to answer the question, ‘How do we overcome this?’”
One such way, King says, is to continue the department’s already-strong community policing efforts.
“The PBA and the department being at events is one way,” King said. “We were recently at the tree lighting and our guys were there serving food (donuts — stop lauging if you are.) These events are great to help build relationships, especially people who don’t know the department.”
King says the KPD, under his leadership, will continue to be a “proactive” department rather than a “reactive” department. This can happen, he says, because Dowie left him a well-staffed force.
“We can contunue to be proactive,” King said. “We can look at the trends to see what is happening and get out in front of it.”
Lastly, King says he hopes to implement more technology into crime-fighting. He says that’s made easier by having a younger group of women and men on the job — a force that embraces what technology can do to improve the law-enforcement world.
King is married to wife Ruthann. Together, they have three children: George III, an NJ Transit cop; Sean, a college student; and William, a Kearny High School senior.
If you don’t get to see the new chief around town, chances are you’ll see him marching in March’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade of West Hudson. He’s a longtime member of the St. Columcille Pipe Band.
“It’s been 20 years,” King said. And if his work as chief is as solid as his bagpiping is — the Kearny Police Department is in for a great show over the coming years.
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.