By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
The Princeton Police Department is starting off the new year with new police officers — six of them, to be exact.
The newly hired officers, chosen from among an initial pool of about 800 applicants, are filling the slots created by the retirement of long-time police officers — and Chief of Police Nicholas Sutter is very pleased with the new officers.
The group includes two veteran police officers from another police department, a former state Department of Corrections officer and three who have never worked in law enforcement. But what they all have in common is their energy and their passion for police work, Chief Sutter said.
Their backgrounds are diverse, and this is what the Police Department is seeking, Chief Sutter said. One of the new police officers is the Police Department’s first female African-American police officer, and another police officer is an Eagle Scout who is still active with a Boy Scout troop.
The veteran police officers who came to the Princeton Police Department from other agencies are Patrolmen Eric Dawson and Daniel Ehnstrom. They both worked for the Mansfield Township Police Department — Patrolman Dawson as a patrolman and Patrolman Ehnstrom as a sergeant. Patrolman Dawson also has worked for the Burlington County Sheriff’s Office.
Patrolman Dawson, 34, is a Hamilton Township native and Patrolman Ehnstrom, 33, grew up in Waretown. Both police officers love to spend time with their families, and also enjoy playing golf.
Patrolman Alex Kaufmann, who grew up in Montague, is 27 years old and has never worked for a police department. He enjoys skiing, exercising and playing the guitar.
Patrolman Andre Lee is 28. Like Patrolman Dawson, he grew up in Hamilton Township. He is a former corrections officer with the New Jersey Department of Corrections. In his spare time, he likes to exercise, play tennis and ride his bicycle.
The Princeton Police Department has several African-American police officers, but 29-year-old Patrolman Toni Mahotiere is the Police Department’s first African-American female officer. She grew up in Verona and is married. She likes to go snowboarding and swimming.
Patrolman Jonathan Myzie, who is 28, earned the rank of Eagle Scout as a youth and is still active in the Boy Scouts of America. The Piscataway native, who worked as a Princeton Police Department dispatcher, is married. He is an avid camper and likes to hike.
All of the newly hired police officers have either earned bachelor’s or associate’s degrees in criminal justice or justice studies — depending on the college that they attended — or are studying criminal justice.
The new police officers that have never worked for a police department began classes last month at the Mercer County Police Academy, and will graduate in April. They will embark on three months of field training, learning the ropes from an experienced police officer. It takes a minimum of eight months from the time a new police officer is hired until the day he or she can patrol alone.
Chief Sutter is the first to admit that it is not easy to become a Princeton police officer. In fact, it takes nearly 18 months — from the time a would-be police officer files an application until the day he or she is sworn in as a police officer.
To fill the six openings, recruitment letters were sent to many organizations — ranging from religious congregations and schools, to law enforcement groups such as the Policemen’s Benevolent Association and the Federation of Police Officers, Chief Sutter said.
Efforts were also made to reach out to law enforcement groups made up of Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians. The Princeton police officers fanned out to take their message to potential recruits, the police chief said.
“We really put the Princeton Police Department’s name out across New Jersey and other states,” Chief Sutter said. “(The applications) came from as far away as Maine and Florida on the East Coast. That made us feel good. People want to come here and work for the Princeton Police Department.”
The nearly 800 applicants were screened, and about 500 took a written exam, he said. Half of those candidates took the Police Department’s physical fitness test, followed up by three formal interviews and an intense background investigation.
That painstaking background investigation includes a criminal history check, references and the applicant’s educational background, the police chief said. Every facet of the candidate’s life is examined, because the job of police officer comes with a “huge” amount of responsibility, he said.
In the end, 40 of the 800 initial applicants were in the running for the six openings. The six who were ultimately chosen are “the best of the best,” Chief Sutter said. “They performed in an outstanding fashion in every step of the process.”
“Their integrity is beyond reproach. They are likable, they are energetic, and they have a passion for their calling. For me, that is the most important quality. These officers will be leading the Police Department for the next 30 years,” he said.
“This is a very exciting time for the Princeton Police Department. The future is bright for the Police Department. I want my legacy to be that I left the Police Department with a high quality caliber of police officer,” Chief Sutter said.
By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer