Attorney General Platkin Announces the Recipients of the 2024 Excellence in Policing Awards in Commemoration of National Police Week

For Immediate Release: May 9, 2024

Office of the Attorney General
– Matthew J. Platkin, Attorney General

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TRENTON — Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin today announced the winners of the 2024 Excellence in Policing Awards. These awards recognize the exceptional service and dedication exhibited by law enforcement agencies, officers, and professionals across New Jersey.

The Excellence in Policing Awards were established in 2019 to promote and strengthen relationships between law enforcement agencies and their communities.

“Today we celebrate the inexhaustible efforts of these exemplary men and women in law enforcement and public service who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to promote safety and enhance trust within their communities,” said Attorney General Platkin. “It is my honor to recognize them and the agencies they represent as they continuously give their all and strive to find new and selfless ways to make New Jersey a safer, fairer, and stronger state.”

The awards ceremony coincides with National Police Week, which President John F. Kennedy designated as a time for the nation to express gratitude for those who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving strangers to ensure their safety.

The following Excellence in Policing Awards were issued today:

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.

This year, the Detective Joseph Seals Valor Award was presented to two police officers for their outstanding service:

Corporal Ryan Pfaff of the Milltown Police Department

Corporal Pfaff’s calm demeanor and determination to safely de-escalate a potentially tragic outcome earned him his award today. On August 10, 2023, Corporal Pfaff responded to a call for service for a suicidal man in crisis holding a knife. Upon his arrival, Corporal Pfaff encountered the knife-wielding person. Using his extensive de-escalation training and experience, he calmly spoke to the distressed individual and safely convinced the person to drop the knife. The individual in crisis later approached the Corporal and agreed to receive mental health assistance. Corporal Pfaff is being honored for his professionalism and for upholding a core principle in the New Jersey State Use of Force Policy: “The Sanctity of Human Life and Serving the Community.”

Officer Ryan Blankenship of the Hackettstown Police Department

 Officer Blankenship’s heroic and selfless efforts to save the life of a victim trapped inside of a burning building ensured his award today. On June 24, 2023, Officer Blankenship was detailed to assist the Independence Township Police Department with a structure fire and entrapment. When it was confirmed that someone was trapped in the building, Officer Blankenship sprang into action. Without regard for his own safety, he removed a window and climbed into the residence without any protective firefighting gear or breathing apparatus. Once inside, Officer Blankenship navigated rooms filled with heavy smoke and evidence of excessive hoarding, and made his way to the bed where the 91-year-old female victim lay. He carried her outside the window to safety. Thanks to Officer Blankenship, the victim was treated for her injuries and released the same day. Officer Blankenship knowingly risked his life during an active fire to save the victim from certain death.

The 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 died by suicide in December 2018. Detective Santiago’s untimely death was the inspiration for the Attorney General’s Statewide Law Enforcement Resiliency Program.

Lieutenant Andrea Tozzi of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office

Recognizing that officers are often faced with the challenge of keeping themselves healthy while simultaneously addressing the health and safety of the communities they serve, Lt. Tozzi has married her background in social work with her dedication to public safety and commitment to her colleagues. She has found ways to support the wellness of her fellow officers by proactively developing, maintaining, and supporting partnerships and programs that help officers respond to the increasing expectations of the community. By advocating for creative and collaborative programs, she has helped provide the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and law enforcement in the county with tools to achieve the safest and most helpful solutions for all involved. Her proactive and compassionate approach recognizes that officer resiliency is not only important when an officer needs help, but it is also about giving officers the tools to avoid the stressors that create the need for help.

The Attorney General’s Initiative Award honors a county prosecutor’s office that demonstrated outstanding efforts toward advancing one of the Attorney General’s key initiatives, namely “Combating Bias, Hate, and Violence” or “Reducing Gun Violence.”

“Hate Has No Home in Ocean County” Initiative by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office

During Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer’s tenure, the Office has been dedicated to fighting against hate crimes, guided by the “Hate Has No Home in Ocean County” message. Notable cases include the prosecution of Dion Marsh, who pleaded guilty to violent acts meant to terrorize the Jewish community. The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office has also designed a systematic approach to reduce hate crimes by collaborating with law enforcement and community leaders to educate young people. Additionally, the Office partnered with the Youth Services Commission to offer Challenge Day to every high school in the County. This workshop on empathy awareness and community building helps identify issues related to bullying, which, in extreme cases, can lead to criminal conduct.

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.

Lakewood Police Department’s Lakewood Community Coalition

 The Lakewood Police Department’s Lakewood Community Coalition was formed in collaboration with the Attorney General’s Office, the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, and the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. Under the direction of Police Chief Gregory Meyer, Captain Steve Allaire was assigned to be the coordinator of the Lakewood Community Coalition. The Coalition’s second co-chair is Cori Scotti, representing faith leaders. The Coalition is open to all members of the Lakewood community and aims to facilitate open communication between the public and community officials. These invited officials include Chief Meyer, Mayor Raymond Coles, Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer, Superintendent of Schools Laura Winters, business owners, Lakewood Township administrators, and many others. The Coalition provides a platform for community members to discuss their concerns before they escalate into significant issues. It also fosters trust and positive relationships within the community, enabling the productive resolution of problems. This collaborative approach has contributed to the growth and success of Lakewood.

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.

Reverend Dr. Charles F. Boyer and First Lady Rosalee Boyer, Salvation and Social Justice and Greater Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church

When all members of the community play an active role in ensuring its health and safety, the community is healthier and safer. Reverend Dr. Charles Boyer and First Lady Rosalee Boyer are recognized for their commitment to reimagining public safety in New Jersey. Through their work, they model a form of chaplaincy to the community as a whole and to the community members that work tirelessly to contribute to the community’s safety. As co-founders of the Trenton-based Salvation and Social Justice (SandSJ), a Black, faith-rooted social justice non-profit, the Boyers are not just terrific advocates for Trentonians and low-income communities of color around the state; they are solution-oriented leaders, consistently putting forth exceptional thinking in restorative justice and public safety. The Boyers’ leadership is marked by their commitment to justice, peace, liberty, and equity.

Through ongoing work, First Lady Boyer’s leadership to expand access to “restorative, culturally congruent” reproductive care is a national example—including midwives and doulas, who have a “history of resilience” in the Black community. Together, Reverend and First Lady Boyer founded the Trenton Restorative Street Team (TRST) in 2021, comprised of formerly incarcerated and criminal justice-impacted individuals trained as outreach workers, counselors, intervention specialists, and community organizers. TRST offers a restorative approach to building relationships and preventing violence. Their efforts are a complement to traditional law enforcement and have been a key part of the teamwork that has led to the state’s historic reduction in gun violence. The Boyers’ work exemplifies how leaders can minister to community needs through thoughtful and brave innovation. Their commitment to the community, its role in public safety, and the well-being of the community members doing this important work has not only expanded the numbers of people actively working toward a safer New Jersey but has brought the important work and benefits of chaplaincy to the community as a whole.

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.

Queen City Mentoring Academy led by Detective Ronald James, Detective Jesse McNeill, and Police Officer Mylis Harrison of the Plainfield Police Department

 The Queen City Mentoring Academy has been an integral part of the Plainfield community for a decade. The Academy aims to foster relationships between the police and youth by providing support and combating food insecurity. This program facilitates a police-community partnership by breaking down barriers, dispelling preconceived notions, and challenging stereotypes. The program also allows kids to engage with new individuals and live experiences they would typically not encounter. By immersing themselves in this supportive program, these young individuals find acceptance and encouragement. The Academy has built such a strong bond between the Police Department and the children they help that several cadets are now police officers. The dedication of Detective James, Detective McNeill, and Police Officer Harrison has been instrumental in the program’s success, and they truly deserve recognition for their outstanding service to Plainfield’s youth.

For the first time in the history of the Excellence in Policing Awards, this year the Attorney General awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the awards ceremony.

Attorney General Platkin recognized Patrick Colligan of the Franklin Police Department, who retired earlier this month following more than thirty years of service as a law enforcement officer and over a decade as the President of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Association (PBA).

As the President of the PBA, Colligan served as a leader in the law enforcement community through incredibly challenging times and times of great reform.  He looked out for the health and safety of his members and the public alike during the COVID-19 pandemic.  He was an instrumental partner in crafting policing reforms that followed the murder of George Floyd.  He also championed legislation that benefited his members and the policing profession: from a bill that secured autonomy for the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System; a law that prohibited ticket quotas; and most recently a law that made police licensure a reality in New Jersey. Attorney General Platkin thanked Colligan for his leadership in New Jersey’s law enforcement community, his service to the State’s residents, and his many contributions to furthering excellence in the policing profession.


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