We Can Not Thank You Enough
Interview and Article by Andrea Jackson, Executive Director, The 200 Club of Bergen County
The 200 Club of Bergen County would like to give a sincere “Note of Thanks” to all of our First Responders working through this very difficult time. They are all deserving of our gratitude and our support in any way we can show it. We are highlighting individual First Responder Departments in Bergen County to both thank them individually and give them the recognition they deserve as they lead the fight – at great risk to themselves – against Covid-19. Today, we would like to specifically thank and recognize the Lyndhurst Police Department.
This “Note of Thanks” is posting at a time when we have more than a pandemic to deal with here in the United States. I had the opportunity to reach out to the Lyndhurst Police Department and interviewed Acting Lieutenant Paul F. Haggerty as well as Police Chief Richard L. Jarvis a few weeks ago. As much as this article is about how the Covid-19 pandemic affected their department and community, it is their words that are far more reaching than just about the pandemic. As you will read, it is as much about caring about your community and being there for your fellow citizens. Their campaign early on in Lyndhurst was “Hope Isn’t Cancelled!” That is a belief at the core of the Lyndhurst Police Department.
Our conversation started as I wanted to know how long Lieutenant Haggerty has lived in Lyndhurst. “My entire life, born and raised. My town is under 5 square miles and we have over 20,000 people that live here. It’s high in density but Lyndhurst has that small-town feel, and everybody looks out for one another. We have a melting pot of families that have been here for generations and those who have moved in from cities seeking a more suburban feel, it’s what keeps us so connected.”
As we are now almost three months into our new way of life during this Covid-19 pandemic, I asked Lieutenant Haggerty to go back to the first days in early March as to how his department handled this virus and the sudden changes that came to all of us. “I am so proud to say that our department was as ready as you could be for this pandemic. I am also the town’s Deputy OEM (Office of Emergency Management) Coordinator so we were working closely with our local government, our Fire, EMS, and Health departments as well. We were preparing strategies so we could arm our boots on the ground (patrol officers) as best as possible against this invisible enemy. “The goal was to keep everyone healthy and safe, and we all took this very serious” By late February, we had established a local task force and the police department’s command staff was putting plans in place to do our best to deal with Covid-19.”
“It was not long into March when the 911 calls started coming in. Whatever the actual numbers for Covid-19 cases were in our town, it didn’t come close to the number of calls coming in around the clock. It became crazy all at once and that’s why I am so thankful that we had the weeks of planning in place. One of the best things we were able to do was our Chief had the idea to convert one of our vehicles that was used for parking enforcement and we converted it into a decontamination unit. For every Covid-19 call we went on, this vehicle was on-site, equipped with a generator, decontamination fluid with a hose and spray gun so we could decontaminate anyone that was exposed on that particular Covid-19 call.”
Lieutenant Haggerty recalls Saint Patrick’s Day was a tough day as they received the news that their first township resident tested positive for Covid-19 and two of their officers had direct exposure to the resident while tending to him for a service call, unrelated Covid, in his residence a few days prior. This resulted in a mandatory 14-day quarantine of these officers. Not soon after, a third officer became symptomatic and eventually tested positive. This officer was suspected to have contracted his exposure from a different resident. “It was becoming all too real but at the end of the day, this is what I signed up to do. I know that most of us were still more concerned about our families and the citizens of Lyndhurst than about ourselves.”
I asked Lieutenant Haggerty now that the case numbers are better, and the weather is getting nicer how does he think all of this is going to go? “Truth is that our community of Lyndhurst has been amazing. Everyone has been great about adhering to the executive orders and guidelines established by the State, County and Local governments. I think people are looking forward to getting out and enjoying the good weather, but I am sure they will continue to be responsible and realize the importance of protecting themselves and others.”
I asked Lieutenant Haggerty if he sees a change in people’s attitudes towards law enforcement since this pandemic. “I think it definitely has opened up some people looking to us for help, and that makes you feel really good because that’s why we are here. As a person in law enforcement, it’s not always easy but I think the most important part of this job is remembering you are there to serve your community the best you can and it’s about the safety of the citizens, and that comes first .” To help boost morale in his town, Lieutenant Haggerty along with Sergeant Passamano on their personal time launched the sale of face masks that have “We Are Lyndhurst” printed on them and raised $5,000 for their local food pantry. “We are also setting up a ‘Virtual Coffee with a Cop’ program, Drive-By parades, which ranged from the birth of a child to missed weddings, new engagements, and countless birthdays, and one to help recognize the graduates from the High School. Sergeant Passamano was instrumental in organizing these Drive-By parades from the onset, and we were doing these for our community immediately following school being closed. Whatever we can do to keep our town connected. All of us in the department feel like this pandemic is like a long race; it’s not a sprint, it’s definitely a marathon. We are learning as we go, and I am sure we have a lot more to learn. At the beginning of this and for however long this lasts, our attitude is hope is never lost. Our citizens, our First Responders have been great. Hope is not canceled!”
As we were finishing up our conversation Chief Richard L. Jarvis joined us. Chief Jarvis, third generation in Lyndhurst, immediately expressed how thankful he is to the 46 members in his department and all the First Responders in Lyndhurst as well as the local government. Chief Jarvis, who has been in his post for a year, said that one of the hardest things as Chief during this time is the sense of responsibility every time there is a Covid-19 call. “As much as we did a lot of planning, I knew all of them were putting themselves at risk every time they were out there. I just wanted everyone to be OK. I did my best to be there for them and as a team, I think we really did a great job.”
I asked Chief Jarvis, as someone in law enforcement, what he thinks is most important for him to express at this time. “Well, there are a few things, definitely being prepared is one. I’m not sure what is ahead of us but we cannot let our guard down just because the Covid-19 cases are down. I think also just being better to each other and more respectful. During this time, I saw people pull together like never before and being there for one another. I hope as a society we can hold onto that. And last, to never lose hope. Our residents and local businesses began flooding our headquarters with gestures of appreciation like I have never experienced in my career;. From donations of PPE (personal protective equipment), to meals for our officers, desserts, snacks, hand sanitizer, and more, the gestures from our community were simply amazing. I know so many people may have felt hopeless, due to the uncertainty and sudden change. It’s like Lieutenant Haggerty said, “hope is not lost, hope is not canceled! That’s what we have to hold onto and move forward from there.”