Morristown police chief to retire after 36 years; Demnitz has been on paid leave

'STAND WITH ME' : Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz addresses interfaith vigil. Photo by Dave Sullivan
'STAND WITH ME' : Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz addresses interfaith vigil in 2016. Photo by Dave Sullivan
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Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz, on paid leave since December, will call it a career this month, MorristownGreen.com has learned.

Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz escorts Black Lives Matter march, July 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz escorts Black Lives Matter march, July 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Over 36 years on the force, Demnitz advocated community policing; as chief, he sometimes joined his officers on late night patrols when downtown bars got rowdy.

The Morristown High School graduate and former varsity baseball catcher became a familiar face and popular speaker around town, and a respected authority on crowd control.

But Demnitz retires amid controversy. Town officials placed him on paid administrative leave from his $158,000 job in December, without elaborating.

Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz, left, and Officer Keith Hudson , courtroom adversaries, share light moment before fourth day of Hudson's civil case challenging his reassignment, May 22, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz, left, and Officer Keith Hudson , courtroom adversaries, share light moment before fourth day of Hudson’s civil case challenging his reassignment, May 22, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

This followed a jury’s unanimous verdict against the town awarding $1.7 million (reduced in a settlement to $1.15 million) to an officer who asserted he was demoted in 2015 for blowing the whistle on Demnitz’ freelance gigs.

The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office found no wrongdoing by the chief. But the town imposed restrictions on Demnitz’ outside work, and a public safety director was hired to oversee police, fire and emergency management services.

Officer Collin Birch is congratulated by Capt. Mike Buckley, as Chief Pete Demnitz watches, Feb. 28, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Capt. Mike Buckley, center, congratulates an officer as Chief Pete Demnitz watches, Feb. 28, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Last month, a captain sued Demnitz, alleging the chief defamed him after he testified in the whistleblower trial last spring. Capt. Michael Buckley also accused the town of failing to curb alleged retaliation by the chief, and of passing him over for interim chief when Demnitz was placed on leave.

 

Capt. Darnell Richardson has been serving as acting chief. It was not clear who will succeed Demnitz, nor were details of his retirement package available.

Mayor Tim Dougherty, Public Safety Director Michael Corcoran Jr. and town Administrator Jillian Barrick did not respond to requests for comment. Demnitz and Buckley declined to comment and Richardson could not immediately be reached.

SURVIVAL TACTICS AND ‘HATE STARES’

Demnitz became chief in 2004. In 2007, he helped keep the lid on a heated demonstration pitting hundreds of pro- and anti-immigration forces against each other outside town hall.

Some 140 state, county and municipal officers– many in riot gear with helmets, batons and pepper spray– were deployed, along with helicopters, horses and SUVs, the Star-Ledger reported at the time.

Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz at Morristown March for Our Lives, March 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Steeped in Revolutionary War history, Morristown has become a magnet for activism in recent years. Thousands have flocked to the historic Green for the Women’s March, the March for Our Lives, Black Lives Matter rallies and numerous vigils and demonstrations, in addition to huge parades, festivals, road races and cycling events.

All have proceeded without incident, a point of pride with Demnitz, who has coordinated security with area authorities.

Nor was he afraid to tackle controversial issues head-on.

At an interfaith vigil in 2016, held in response to controversial shootings by, and of, police officers across the country, Demnitz questioned police tactics that preceded several high-profile shootings of African Americans.

Acting Chief Darnell Richardson at funeral of Marty Epstein, May 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Acting Chief Darnell Richardson at funeral of Marty Epstein, May 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

He also defended officers who he said receive “the hate stare” while being asked to cure “all the social ills that no one else can figure out.

“Officers all over this country are paying for the actions of a few,” he said, wearing a black band on his badge to mourn five Dallas officers slain days before at a Black Lives Matter rally.

Relations between police and minorities will remain strained until society addresses poverty and provides opportunities for the disadvantaged, he told the gathering inside the Morristown United Methodist Church.

An analyst of mass shootings, Demnitz preached survival tactics to the public. He assigned an officer to Morristown High School in 2013.

On occasion, Demnitz took some heat for keeping quiet.

Morristown Police Chief Peter Demnitz reflects on 33 years a cop, while Mayor Tim Dougherty listens. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Police Chief Peter Demnitz in 2016 reflects on 33 years a cop, while Mayor Tim Dougherty listens. The mayor later hired a public safety director to oversee the police department. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

After an apartment resident was raped in early 2018, residents questioned why they were not alerted to a rash of burglaries that preceded the attack, crimes later linked to the accused rapist.

The chief told the council he seldom publicized burglaries out of sensitivity to local merchants, who felt it was bad for business.

And some council members were frustrated attempting to obtain police data.

One of the new public safety director’s first major public acts was the March release of a 102-page police report crammed with statistics; town officials greeted it with great fanfare.

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