Pledging to “hit the ground running,” Morristown’s first public safety director on Tuesday called the job a “dream come true” and said one of his priorities will be seeking accreditation for the police bureau.
“I definitely want to get to accreditation right away. Having sound policies and procedures in place is extremely important,” Michael Corcoran Jr. said moments after the town council unanimously consented to his appointment to the new $140,000 post.
Corcoran starts on Oct. 1, 2018, and will report to town Administrator Jillian Barrick. He will oversee the police- and fire departments and emergency management operations.
That entails setting policy and performing “detailed research and analysis to quickly assess, diagnose, articulate and address public safety needs,” in collaboration with other agencies, according to a statement from Barrick. Corcoran was chosen from a field of 30 candidates, the statement said.
“His credentials were stellar,” said Mayor Tim Dougherty.
Video: Michael Corcoran Jr. addresses Morristown council for first time.
Corcoran most recently served as public safety director in Rye, NY. He retired as West Orange deputy police chief in 2016, after 25 years in that department. The Navy veteran (his duties included “shipboard firefighter”) has a law degree, and also holds certifications from the FBI National Academy and Rutgers.
Dougherty said the new position is not a slap at Police Chief Pete Demnitz for being sued successfully by a whistleblowing cop.
But the Mayor added: “I think it was time for some new leadership at a director level, making sure our departments have everything they need to be successful,” including “new ideas and technologies and police practices, and making sure our fire department is fully equipped with what it needs.”
Police freelance practices were central to the lawsuit that is costing the town $1 million in damages.
Accreditation by the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police can help police departments reduce risks of litigation, by adopting best practices and policies and providing guidance for officers, said Corcoran.
“It’s a lot of self analysis, looking at your organization, looking in the proverbial mirror,” he said of the accreditation process, which he estimates will take about 18 months.
QUALITY OF LIFE ISSUES
The Mayor said Corcoran also will address quality-of-life issues such as pedestrian safety, traffic and speeding.
“Mr. Corcoran was the only [applicant] that touched on the opioid crisis, which I thought was a very important piece to public safety,” Dougherty said. Corcoran is a mayoral appointment who will serve at the pleasure of the Mayor. The council had an advice-and-consent role on the hire.
Alison Deeb, the only council member to vote against creating the directorship back in July, said she supported Corcoran’s appointment on Tuesday in a spirit of bipartisanship. She is one of two Republicans on the seven-member council.
“I do object to growing the size of the police department, and I do think we have an excellent police chief and we don’t need two chiefs. But…I fully support this nomination. He’s extremely well qualified,” Deeb said of Corcoran.
Demnitz, a 35-year veteran of the police force, and Fire Chief Robert Flanagan, a fireman since 1985 and grandson of a fire chief, introduced themselves to Corcoran after the council meeting.
The Irvington native said he looked forward to working with the chiefs, in a “mutually respectful environment.”
“It’s about communications, it’s about understanding each other’s role,” Corcoran said.
“It’s frequent face-to-face. When I went into Rye I was a true outsider. I was a guy from New Jersey going into an organization where I knew absolutely no one. It’s about communications, about sitting down, having staff meetings, and clarifying expectations — laying out your expectations on a daily basis, and holding people accountable for results. Because at the end of the day, it’s the residents of Morristown that we’re looking to serve.”
Corcoran quit the Rye job in June, he said, to be closer to his wife Carol and sons Ryan, 16, and Jack, 9, in Roseland. His eldest son, Mike, 19, is a sophomore at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut.
“Rye was a long distance from home. I had residency in New York state. I have a young family.” Though he loved working for Rye, “it was time to move on. I missed New Jersey. My family definitely needed me here,” he said.
Corcoran, who publicly thanked West Orange Police Chief James Abbott for mentoring him, said he has been hoofing around Morristown to get acclimated.
But he already had some familiarity with the town. One of his first dates with his wife was at the Black Orchid, in Headquarters Plaza. A friend got married at HQ Plaza in the early ’90s, and he takes his sons to movies there.
“It’s funny how life comes full circle,” Corcoran said. “To be in the county seat in a very vibrant community that’s on the cutting edge, and to be able to come in and collectively transform a public safety department, is a dream come true for anybody.”