By Ron Leir
KEARNY — For Matthew Knighton, the choice of law enforcement as a career was a no-brainer.
“I came from a military background – (he enlisted in the Army at age 17, served a tour in Kuwait in 2013-2014 with the HHC 2-113 Infantry unit and is now a staff sergeant with the N.J. National Guard) – so the transition will be easy: family-oriented, brotherhood,” he said.
Knighton, born and raised in Newark, is one of 10 new Kearny police officers who recently completed their training at the Bergen County Police Academy and were sworn in as members of the KPD at the May 9 meeting of the municipal governing body.
Knighton is the sixth African-American to join the KPD ranks. “We had seven,” said Police Chief George King, “but we just lost one to retirement.”
King noted that Knighton – who studied criminal justice at Essex County College – was a platoon leader at the Academy where his peers picked him for the 200 Club Role Model Award.
Asked his expectations in the coming years, Knighton responded, “Hopefully, moving up in the ranks and maybe working in the detective division.”
King said the 10-member rookie class finished the six-month Academy program with a “100% success rate, in stellar fashion.” Its members are now getting a crash course with the KPD, rotating through different tours and assignments, to get a feel for how the department operates.
The rookie class had a second platoon leader in Officer Nicole Williams who now becomes the seventh woman (with the potential for an eighth female now in a separate Academy class) to join the current 103-member KPD (there are a total of five officer candidates in that Academy class).
A 2008 Kearny High alumna, Williams is a public-safety legacy: Her dad Glenn is a Kearny Fire Department captain, her grandfather Kenneth is a retired KPD officer and her uncle is a retired FBI agent.
Citing her granddad’s past service, Williams said: “I want to keep my town and community safe and secure with the same pride and honor like he did.”
Getting through the Academy’s physical demands “challenged me,” Williams acknowledged. To prepare, Williams said she “ran three to four miles every day for about a year.”
No slouch on the academic side, Williams served as a middle school teacher in Orange after graduating from Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania with a degree in education and minors in math and educational technology.
Another rookie with military background is Christopher Montes, a native of Brooklyn, who came to Kearny in 2001 and graduated from KHS in 2008. Three years later, he joined the U.S. Army Reserve in which he continues to serve as a Specialist E-4.
He should be especially useful with the KPD motor pool since he holds a vocational degree in auto mechanics from the Wyoming Technical Institute and worked as a certified technician with Mercedes Benz for the past seven years. He’s now pursuing a bachelor’s degree at DeVry University.
Here’s some background on the rest of the rookie class:
- Officer John Hester-Fearon is a Kearny resident who attended St. Peter’s Prep, Jersey City, and took classes at Rutgers University. He worked previously with the Kearny Board of Education and as a hockey camp counselor.
- Officer Ryan Stickno is a Kearny resident who also attended St. Peter’s Prep and then St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, graduating with a degree in business administration and a minor in criminal justice. His brother Alan is a KPD officer, his grandfather is a retired Jersey City police sergeant and his uncle is a police sergeant in Harrison.
- Officer Matthew Lopez, an 11-year Kearny resident and a KHS alum, was a lifeguard and ice hockey official after playing through high school. He worked for Rick’s Auto Body, North Arlington, and for MetLife Stadium in security. His dad is a retired Bayonne firefighter;.
- Officer Anthony Oliveira, a Kearny resident, has a degree in business management from Rowan University. He was a summer employee with Kearny Recreation and was an intern with Atlanta Sosnoff Capital in Manhattan. His brother Dan is a detective sergeant 1st class with the N.J. State Police.
- Officer Joshua Lopez, a KHS graduate where he was a standout wrestler, worked for Tel-Star Electric in Kearny and was a member of the North Arlington Volunteer Emergency Squad. His cousin Patrick Triano is a member of the Harrison PD.
- Officer Harold Azurdia, who lived in Harrison and Ridgefield Park before Kearny, received an associate degree in liberal arts from Bergen Community College. He served as a Class 1 Special Officer in Ridgefield.
- Officer Kevin Carvalho, whose parents emigrated from Brazil, was born and raised in Newark. He studied criminal justice at Union County College and was a universal specialist for Columbia Bank. His cousin is an officer with the Newark PD ESU and narcotics team.