For Immediate Release: May 12, 2023
Office of the Attorney General
– Matthew J. Platkin, Attorney General
TRENTON – Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin today announced the winners of the 2023 Excellence in Policing Awards, highlighting the outstanding service displayed by law enforcement agencies, officers, and professionals across the state.
The Excellence in Policing Awards, created in 2019, were designed to encourage and reinforce New Jersey’s commitment to strengthening the relationships between law enforcement agencies and their communities. This year for the first time, the Excellence in Policing Awards are being held during National Police Week, a week designated by President John F. Kennedy as a time for a grateful nation to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the safety of, and in the service to, strangers.
“Today, I am honored to present awards for Excellence in Policing to the dedicated public servants and agencies who work tirelessly to strengthen our communities by implementing innovative, creative and unique programs or by demonstrating particularly heroic actions,” said Attorney General Platkin. “These recipients represent the very, very best of New Jersey law enforcement. Thanks to their efforts, we can better serve our fellow residents and, in turn, not only making New Jersey safer, but truly stronger.”
The following Excellence in Policing Awards were awarded today:
Detective Seals Valor Award
Officer Michael Gamba, Cranford Police Department
The Detective Joseph Seals Valor Award honors a police officer or officers who demonstrated an act of extraordinary bravery or heroism in the line of duty. The award honors Detective Joseph Seals, a 13-year veteran of the Jersey City Police Department, who lost his life in the line of duty in December 2019. Detective Seals’ actions at the time of his death likely saved the lives of many others. Detective Seals was not a stranger to heroism; in 2008, he broke through a window and stopped the rape of a 41-year-old woman on Christmas Eve. The Detective Joseph Seals Valor Award is presented to Officer Michael Gamba of the Cranford Police Department.
Officer Gamba’s courageous actions on May 28, 2022, at a senior housing complex in response to a domestic violence incident earned him this award. When Officer Gamba and his team arrived at the scene, they learned that the suspect had already left the residence and was walking in the neighborhood. Fearing that the individual may still be armed, Officer Gamba approached the suspect, who reached into his waistband and pulled out a loaded “Ghost Gun.” Without hesitation, Officer Gamba wrestled the firearm from the suspect’s hand, preventing injuries to himself, his colleagues, and innocent pedestrians in the area. Officer Gamba’s bravery is the embodiment of valor and pays tribute to the memory of Detective Seals.
Pablo Santiago Resiliency Award:
Sergeant Peter Ferris, Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office
The Detective Pablo Santiago Resiliency Award honors a law enforcement officer who developed an innovative program or initiative to improve officer safety and wellness. It is named for Mercer County Sheriff’s Office Detective Pablo Santiago, who lost his life to suicide in December 2018. Detective Santiago’s untimely death was the inspiration for the Attorney General’s Statewide Law Enforcement Resiliency Program. The Detective Pablo Santiago Resiliency Award is presented to Sergeant Peter Ferris of the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office.
Recognizing that law enforcement officers might be less inclined to ask for help, Sergeant Ferris led the county resiliency team in establishing a partnership with the Kindle Hill Foundation (KHF) to support first responders through equine-assisted learning and therapy to relieve stress, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. KHF developed customized programs that allow equine-assisted learning and therapy for individuals or agencies, which Sergeant Ferris coordinated confidential referrals to for officers in Gloucester County who have experienced emotional or mental trauma on the job.
Sergeant Ferris’ tireless work in promoting the program with police chiefs to engage in department-wide therapy and expand the program statewide exemplifies the very essence of the Detective Pablo Santiago Resiliency Award. He has shown incredible leadership, innovation, and dedication to the well-being of his fellow officers, and his work is a testament to the importance of addressing the mental health needs of law enforcement officers. Through his efforts, Sergeant Ferris is helping to create a safer, healthier, and more resilient law enforcement community.
Attorney General’s Initiative Award
Prosecutor William A. Daniel, Union County Prosecutor’s Office for the Safe Space Initiative
The Attorney General’s Initiative Award honors a county prosecutor’s office which demonstrated outstanding efforts toward advancing one of the Attorney General’s key initiatives, namely “Combatting Bias, Hate, and Violence” or “Reducing Gun Violence.” The ‘Attorney General’s Initiative Award is presented to the Union County Prosecutor’s Office (UCPO) for their Safe Place Initiative.
The UCPO adopted Seattle’s Safe Place Initiative to combat the increasing number of bias and hate crimes and became the first county in the United States to have all of its municipalities participate. The Safe Place Initiative involves partnerships between the police and community businesses, social organizations, and schools to create designated safe places for victims of bias and hate crimes. Furthermore, every school within the county has a liaison with the office to combat school bullying. The UCPO has continued to improve their program by maintaining a strong relationship with the Seattle Police Officer who serves as the Global Safe Place Administrator. Through their exemplary efforts, the UCPO has demonstrated a commitment to advancing the Attorney General’s initiative and creating a safer community for all.
Outstanding Community Partnership Award:
Sergeant Brian Shapiro and the Atlantic City Police Department
The Outstanding Community Partnership Award honors a county prosecutor’s office or police department that has implemented or strengthened a community partnership or collaboration with community stakeholders to advance public safety. The Outstanding Community Partnership Award is presented to Sergeant Brian Shapiro and the Atlantic City Police Department.
Sergeant Shapiro recognized that there were vulnerable populations in Atlantic City who were in need of various health services, and he saw that there was a lack of coordination between different organizations that were trying to help. To address this issue, Sergeant Shapiro took the lead in creating a weekly meeting where representatives from the police department, casinos, businesses, courts, and other law enforcement agencies could come together and share information about the various services that were available to at-risk populations. By coordinating these efforts, Sergeant Shapiro ensured that individuals who needed help were able to connect with the appropriate resources more quickly and efficiently.
Thanks to Sergeant Shapiro’s initiative, at-risk individuals in Atlantic City were able to receive the care and support they needed to improve their health and well-being. Additionally, businesses and other organizations in the area were able to see the benefits of this coordinated approach, as it helped to resolve issues more quickly and effectively.
Police Chaplain of the Year:
Reverend Tami Weaver-Henry, Jersey City Police Department
The Police Chaplain of the Year honors an exceptional chaplain who goes above and beyond the normal duties of a police chaplain to serve the needs of the department and community. This year the Police Chaplain of the Year is Reverend Tami Weaver-Henry who is a member of the Jersey City Police Chaplain Program.
Reverend Weaver-Henry is a devoted chaplain who has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to serving both the Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) and the community at large. Her dedication to the principles of integrity, compassion, and toughness have made her a trusted and valued resource for officers and community members alike. Reverend Weaver-Henry has played a critical role in providing emotional and spiritual support to those who are experiencing difficult and traumatic situations.
Reverend Weaver-Henry was instrumental in bringing the police chaplain program to the JCPD. This program has been invaluable in providing officers with the support they need to cope with the unique stresses and challenges of their job, and has helped to build stronger relationships between law enforcement and the community. Through her tireless work and dedication, she has shown that she is not only a valuable asset to the JCPD, but to the entire community. Her selfless commitment to serving others is an inspiration to all who know her, and she is a shining example of what it means to be a true servant leader.
Outstanding Youth Engagement Award
Detective Mike Gonzalez, Elizabeth Police Department
The Outstanding Youth Engagement Award honors a law enforcement officer who designed and implemented an innovative program or initiative to promote stronger police-youth engagement. The Outstanding Youth Engagement Award is presented to Detective Mike Gonzalez of the Elizabeth Police Department.
Detective Gonzalez’s commitment to service was sparked by a family tragedy and his own struggles with the stressors of his career. Using his own money, he began presenting his program to middle schoolers in Elizabeth in the spring of 2022. His presentations, which incorporate popular music and over 100 props, focus on challenging topics such as drug use, bullying, family violence, and sexting. Detective Gonzalez’s ability to discuss these sensitive topics with young people in a way that encourages their participation and eagerness to learn has been instrumental in the success of the program. The program has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the educational community, and Detective Gonzalez has been asked to expand it due to its popularity and effectiveness. Detective Gonzalez’s dedication to strengthening police-youth engagement has made a significant impact on the community, and he is a worthy recipient of this award.