By Berit Ollestad
One got his start on the ambulance squad; another was a firefighter. Another chases tax scammers. Yet another prepared for duty by serving in Iraq. One is even continuing his education at England’s famed Cambridge University.
They are among Morristown’s top cops, scheduled for promotions at Tuesday’s council meeting.
Matt Edwards, Stuart Greer and Keith Cregan will become lieutenants. Mike Molnar advances to sergeant. And Army veteran Collin Birch joins the force as a patrol officer.
This is how they got here.
Lt. Matt Edwards:
Matt Edwards has served with Morristown’s Finest and Bravest.
After graduating from Morristown High, he became a volunteer firefighter, serving in the old First Ward firehouse.
Rounding out the Trifecta, he also volunteered with the Minute-Men Ambulance Squad in Morris Township.
“It was during this time that my neighbor Paul Geary was a lieutenant with the town’s PD. He and his wife Ann encouraged me to take the civil service exam and get my name down on the list. The process was unusually quick and before I knew it, I was being offered a position with the towns’ police department. So, at the age of 19, I set out on my career path into law enforcement.”
Edwards, a 23-year-veteran of the police department, says each step on the journey has taught him valuable lessons.
“There have been many influences over the years and you take the best from each person that you come into contact with in order to be the best officer you can be. Everyone in the agency brings something to the table,” he says.
Off-duty, Edwards coaches his kids’ sports team, serves as a volunteer firefighter in a nearby town and enjoys gardening and landscaping.
One of the biggest cases of his career was investigating the 2001 murder of 10-year-old Walter Contreras Valenzuela.
“I was dispatched to Honduras for two weeks to investigate the suspect at the time, Porfirio Jimenez. [The day laborer was convicted in 2008.] People here in the U.S. think they know what it’s like to be poor? It wasn’t until I went to Honduras that I found out what poor really is,” Edwards says.
Lt. Stuart Greer:
Before they take the wheel of a patrol car, many police officers start in an ambulance.
That’s how it began for Greer, who worked as an Emergency Medical Technician for several cities before becoming a cop.
“While serving in that role, I met many police officers and got an exposure to the kind of work they did on a daily basis. I thought the work was fascinating and decided that it would be the career for me,” said the officer, now in his 15th year on the force.
The ride has taken him all the way to England’s prestigious Cambridge University, where he working on a master’s degree in criminology and police management.
“As one of only three American students admitted this year, I have a unique opportunity to study experimental criminology from some of the leading academics in the field, as well as learning from senior police officers from all over the world,” Greer explains.
“The program requires me to travel back and forth to the UK several times a year as I work on my thesis. But it is a wonderful chance to increase my knowledge in the field of criminology and I look forward to bringing back new ideas to the department.”
The biggest change in law enforcement has been the evolution of technology, Greer maintains.
“When I started, the dispatcher would write down the information onto a card which was fed into a punch clock. Now, we have a state-of-the-art communications center which feeds us information through the onboard computers and can track the resources as they are deployed. I think that this constant race to keep up with technology will continue to be a key issue moving forward and will present quite a challenge.”
Lt. Keith Cregan:
These days, a policeman’s tools include more than handcuffs and a gun. Spreadsheets, calculators and databases are part of the arsenal, too, for this Morristown High School graduate, who works closely with the IRS to investigate financial crimes as part of the New Jersey Financial Crime Task Force. Cregan is one of only five police officers across the state chosen for this special mission.
His father, an accountant, encouraged him to follow that path because the FBI hires people with degrees in accounting, business and law.
Cregan attended the University of Delaware on a football scholarship, then worked as finance manager for Major League Soccer. An auditing stint for PriceWaterHouseCoopers followed.
At that point, he decided to return to Morristown and serve his hometown, where he had married his high school sweetheart. His father-in-law, Michael Cherello, was a longtime firefighter here.
Cregan credits his success to mentoring by superior officers.
“A little over two years into my career, I was brought into the detective bureau. It was there that I worked under Patrol Supervisor [now Capt. Steve] Sarinelli. He really impressed upon me the right way to do things and the importance of being thorough in my investigations. I then had the opportunity to work under Lt. Michael Buckley, and I’m reasonably certain that if it wasn’t for his persistence in always pushing me to do my best; I’m not sure I’d be where I am today.”
In his spare time, Cregan coaches his kids’ Little League team, serves on the board of Teen Pride and is a volunteer firemen in New Vernon.
Keeping up with technology has been among the biggest challenges during Cregan’s nine-year police career.
“Technology has really changed the way we do our job,” he says. “We are constantly being introduced to the latest that police technology has to offer.
“When I first started we wrote our reports up by hand. Now, we do our reports on a computer. We used to take Polaroids of crime scenes, now we have digital cameras. We have GPS in our patrol cars. We know where a car has been and what it has been involved with. Some departments are even using body cameras on their officers to get an even more detailed account of a situation. Technology has definitely come a long way from when I started.”
Sgt. Michael Molnar:
If a Morristown patrol car ever breaks down in a tight situation, Mike Molnar is the guy every cop wants sitting beside him.
The Morristown High graduate spent five years as a mechanic at STS Tire in Morris Township before joining the force.
Molnar says his father was a blue-collar worker who taught him the value of an honest day’s labor; he encouraged his son to enter law enforcement because it represented a secure future.
Growing up next door to the future police chief, Pete Demnitz, did not hurt the cause, either.
“Chief Demnitz was like a father figure for me,” Molnar says. “Seeing his success and love of the job also led me in the direction of law enforcement.”
The 11-year police veteran rattles off a veritable roster of mentors: Caponegro, Holtz, Lamberti, Greer, Bendel, (retired), Cavaluzzi.
Citing support Mayor Tim Dougherty’s support, Molnar says the department is rebuilding and he is optimistic for the future. Toward that end, he has honed his leadership skills during a stint as president of the local Police Benevolent Association. One of his accomplishments was helping coordinate the Wounded Warriors Project with the Morristown Fire Department.
Molnar’s spare time is spent with his wife and kids.
Patrol Officer Collin Birch:
It’s unlikely that anything on the Morristown beat will rattle this rookie; he has served four tours of duty as a soldier in Iraq.
He enlisted in the Army after graduating from Dover High School and was deployed one week after 9/11.
Birch served with the Morris County Sheriff’s Office for about a year when he was contacted about an opening in Morristown.
“I chose to go into law enforcement because I wanted to continue to serve others–just in a different capacity,” says Birch, an avid runner. “My parents instilled in me a strong sense of the importance of giving back to others.”
MG Editor Kevin Coughlin contributed to this report.