Although new Gov. Christopher Christie is injecting plenty of new blood into his administration, he announced today that the commander of the New Jersey State Police isn’t going anywhere.
A Bergen County native, Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes guided the agency from one of its lowest periods in history to a standing that draws respect and admiration from all levels of government, not just in New Jersey but all the way to Washington.
“I’ve worked with Colonel Fuentes for a number of years as U.S. Attorney. I’m impressed with the work and leadership he’s provided the State Police,” Christie said. “He’s on the job and I want him to stay there.”
The agency had been under a consent decree fashioned by the Justice Department to eliminate racial profiling in traffic stops. Monitors and others have given Fuentes’ troops high marks for their work in moving the State Police past questionable practices and into high-caliber training.
In fact, a report released last fall said complaints about trooper conduct had dropped below 1,000 for the first time since 2003 — the year Fuentes was appointed the state’s top cop. Of the total complaints, many were brought by the department itself.
The NJSP has more than 3,000 troopers, most of whom patrol countless miles of roadway and handle various venues — i.e., Giants Stadium — and events. They make thousands upon thousands of motor vehicle stops each year and conduct major investigations. In some towns, they are the sole patrol unit.
Besides training, Fuentes has emphasized internal reviews and self-inspections. He also hasn’t been afraid to shuffle the ranks, moving ranking officers to different positions, depending on the circumstances. He relies on an extremely diverse group of majors, captains and lieutenants, and women make up nearly a fifth of his top officers.
Fuentes, who joined the State Police in 1978, has thoroughly modernized the agency, giving it the technological tools to conduct difficult forensic investigations and opening the channels for law enforcement agencies at all levels to communicate quickly and efficiently.NJSP Badge: 1921
Video cameras are used in all patrol vehicles and commanders are able to track personnel information via computer.
An engaging but firm commander, Fuentes created a Homeland Security branch of the NJSP, as well as the high-tech Regional Operations Intelligence Center, a hub for coordinating responses to critical incidents among agencies of all stripes and jurisdictions. He serves on a special federal commission on U.S. Homeland Security.
Overall, he now commands an agency that is “more professional, more accessible and more transparent” than how he found it, Fuentes told CLIFFVIEW PILOT last year.
“The practices that we’ve employed and the reforms we’ve instituted have instilled public confidence and trust,” the colonel said.