For nearly 20 years, John P. Dowie served as Kearny’s police chief with great distinction. And over those years, he spent a lot of time heaping praise. Never was that praise for himself. It was always for his people, the women and men who served under him. But now, seven years after he retired, the praise and adulation will be coming his way — in perpetuity.
That’s because the Kearny Policemen’s Benevolent Association voted in 2023 create the John P. Dowie Police Officer of the Year award. While it is not the first time the award has been given out — that’s been happening for ages — this year marked the first time the award, given to Police Officer Ryan Stickno, was issued in Dowie’s honor.
And it will be forever more.
When the PBA had its annual awards banquet earlier this year, Dowie was feted — as were Stickno and numerous others who were cited for their dedicated service. We will tell you Stickno’s story in an upcoming edition of The Observer, but for now, we focus on Dowie.
Just to give you an idea of the kind of man Dowie is, while he agreed to this story, he wanted it to be clear that we’d give Stickno the credit he deserves — and we most certainly will.
We spoke with Dowie last week about the award and took a look back at career that was his. It should come as a surprise to absolutely no one he was moved by having the award named in his honor. And he never saw it coming.
“Yes, to say I was a little surprised and humbled would be an understatement. I never had a problem putting my troops in the spotlight and singing their well-deserved praises, but for myself not so much,” Dowie said. “I just always wanted to be that guy who held up his end and could be counted on out there. That was good enough for me.
“I actually quipped that I did a lot of investigations back in the day, sorted through lots of clues and worked them through to their conclusion, but I didn’t have a clue why I was selected for such an honor.
“It is a bit more special when it was given by my own department than by another agency or organization, I guess, because here, the people giving the award know you both as an officer and personally as an individual. I’ve been given valor awards by the County 200 Club and inducted into the State Honor Legion and while those were very much appreciated recognitions, there is definitely something special when it comes from your peers.”
One of those peers is Dowie’s son, Jonathan, who is now a detective in Kearny. He’s had a meteoric rise from patrolman to detective, and that’s a source of incredible pride for the retired chief.
“Having my son become a police officer is very special,” he said. “Not only to see him as a member of the Kearny Police Department as both I and my father before me were, but he genuinely loves what he is doing and has made wonderful friends. Jon devotes much of his own time to the KPD Honor Guard, PBA fundraisers and the Valor, Golf and Picnic committees. We are very proud.”
That pride extends to Dowie’s community, too. When he retired, he could have moved away with wife, Ann, and chosen a new life. But that wasn’t in the card for the chief.
“I am glad we stayed in Kearny, a good place to live, in my opinion,” Dowie said. “Even with all the new development, we have stable taxes and a sound government and administration. I had a very pleasant experience working with our Mayor and Council and other department heads and still see them working for the good of the people of Kearny.
“In addition to that, it is time for ‘This Old House, Part 2’ for our 100+-year-old house and as much as I loved being a cop, I do like playing carpenter, plumber, electrician and car mechanic, to catch up on all the years and hours I spent playing cop, to update the home we have lived in for the past 40 years.”
Can you tell Dowie hasn’t come close to losing his sharp sense of humor?
Despite his new-found calling as Kearny’s version of Bob Vila, Dowie says he still misses being in blue.
“I dearly miss being a cop. Much more being a street cop than being chief,” Dowie said, humbly. “There is no greater honor or more exciting job as far as I’m concerned — the ‘greatest show on earth’ as they say. As a street cop, you get an opportunity every day to help somebody or impact their life in a positive way. But yeah, I’m still that ‘watching your surroundings and looking for who may be up to no good’ when I’m out. My wife says I still drive like a cop.”
Dowie was known, at all hours of the day, on the clock or otherwise, to pull people over when there were infractions. As the old saying goes, you can take the man out of being a cop, but never a cop from the man. And despite all the changes that have occurred in policing over the last decade+, Dowie still sees the value and importance law enforcement has to this very day.
“It’s true that a lot of the faces have changed in the department and no doubt the job and the law have, too,” the chief said. “Every generation of cops go through a lot of change in tactics, training and technology, but what doesn’t change is that somebody has to put on all that gear, get in that car 24/7/365 and respond, many times alone, into who knows what and sort out the mayhem and face the danger without regard to themselves for people they don’t know. Currently there are over 23,000 names engraved on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.”
In wrapping things up, Dowie took time to laud the man who received his award for the first time.
“My personal and professional congratulations to Ryan Stickno on his well-deserved selection as KPD Cop of the Year,” Dowie said. “In my opinion, Ryan embodies everything that the KPD, his peers and the public deserve in an officer. Ryan is a credit to the police profession in general and the KPD in particular and comes from a law enforcement family.
“As I told the department when I left five years ago, I don’t know if I was a good chief or not, but I do know I was the chief of a great department. They still are and have my deep gratitude and respect for this honor.”
And we’ll help Dowie with the answer to his last statement.
There were few who ever did it better, anywhere.
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.