By JOANNE L. PAPAIANNI
As his nearly 30 year career in law enforcement for the city of Asbury Park nears its close, Acting Chief of Police Anthony Salerno, who has led the police force for the last three years, believes he is leaving his department and the city in better shape than when he took over.
He will leave the post April 25.
Although he welcomes retirement, his affection for his job and the city got the best of him this week when a long time resident stopped to wish him well.
Salerno returned to his desk wiping a tear from his eye.
His entire law enforcement career has been in Asbury Park where he began July 1, 1988 after leaving New York City and the restaurant business to become a police officer.
Salerno was born in raised in Asbury Park, attending Our Lady Mt. Carmel School and graduating from Asbury Park High School.
Reflecting on his near three decades Salerno said two cases still occupy his mind.
One involved a homicide where an elderly woman, Ann King was bludgeoned to death in her home on the 500 block of Sunset Avenue in 1998.
“I single handedly had a part in solving that murder,” he said.
Salerno said the person who killed King did so to rob her of her foreign coin collection.
He explained that there was snow on the third floor window ledge where King’s bedroom was.
After the snow melted Salerno saw the coins on the ground between King’s house and a neighboring boarding house.Following an investigation police learned that the boyfriend of the woman living in the third floor room level with King’s had climbed across the small divide into King’s room where she woke up and surprised him.
The murderer then hit King with a bag full of ceramic mugs, killing her.
“That image is painted on my mind,” Salerno said.
The case went to the prosecutor’s office and there was a conviction.
“Monmouth County did a great job prosecuting the case,” Salerno said.
The other case that stays with him even now involves a four year old girl in Boston Way Village who was shot through the heart while standing in the window watching other kids play outside.
“It was a driveby shooting. I was assigned to the autopsy,” he said.
That incident was in 1995 and was gang-related.
One positive in his career, he said, was being assigned to the walking beat of Boston Way Village early in his career.
At the time that was considered a punitive action, but Salerno says looking back it was a move that made him a better cop.
“I had a big mouth, and thought things should be a certain way. That doesn’t always go in a real positive way,” he said explaining why he was being penalized.
“It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I got to know people by name and I learned that good people live in bad neighborhoods. A police car can isolate you,” he said.
He said as he got to know the residents they invited him in for dinner or offered him a glass of water, allowing him to build relationships.
Of course, not everyone was so inviting, he said, especially those whose family members he had locked up.
Salerno said becoming chief in 2014 brought him back to the basics of being a police officer.
“Everyone thinks you have a magic wand, but you don’t,” he said.
The chief said he doubled community policing efforts, such as becoming involved with local clergy in a communicative, respectful way, engaging youth through the cadet program and summer boot camp and increasing walking and bicycle patrols.
“The walking post became not punitive anymore,” he said.
Salerno also said he made sure, that his efforts did not appear to be creating a police state at the same time.
After claims were made that police did not give enough attention to crime ridden areas, he began putting dots on a map where crimes had been committed and assigning officers and increased the presence of the street crimes unit.
“In 2015 there was a huge decrease in crime,” he said.
Salerno said when he took over as chief he implemented a three point plan that included 1 – showing up for work, 2 – doing something while at work and 3 – issuing a new uniform policy.
He said his plan cut down on the abuse of sick time, increased violation citations and made the force look more professional.
Another area of success, said the chief, was the increase in technology. He said the department installed fiber optics throughout the city that allows cameras and communication systems to work with no wireless, which increased speed.
He said there are now 65 high definition cameras installed in the city, some seen and some unseen, that can turn, tilt and zoom to collect evidence.
He also said the use of body worn cameras has helped increase convictions and make sure police do their jobs properly.
Salerno said part of his job is removing bad police officers which he has done six times, due to administrative charges. Some were fired, some resigned.
He said he also brought back random drug testing so the public can have confidence that their police are not using illegal drugs.
The force is now down six officers to a total of 86. According to state guidelines, there should be 92 full time officers in a city the size of Asbury Park.
Overall Salerno says he has worked with “Some of the best, bravest and kindest police officers I’ve ever seen.”
He lamented the fact that many good officers leave because the city does not pay as well as it should.
New officers come to Asbury Park, get some experience and move on to higher paying departments where they can make as much as $30,000 more.
An officer making $100,000 in Asbury Park can go to the prosecutor’s office and make $129,000, he said.
Asbury Park, he said, is the lowest paid department in Monmouth County even though the population swells from 17,000 in the winter to as much as 125,000 on summer weekends and it has the highest calls for service.
Part of the reason for the lower pay, is that the city is still on state transitional aid.
Salerno will be leaving his post April 25 retiring with the rank of deputy chief of police. He said he will spend his first days playing golf, relaxing and decompressing before possibly taking a job for the federal government.
During his tenure Salerno said he has seen the city go from “good, to really bad and now a resurgence,” which makes him happy.
“I left it better than I found it,” he said.