The first Europeans to settle in the area were Dutch and the place was called Gansegat. Later it was part of Horse Neck and officially part of Newark Township. What is now Fairfield was formed on February 16, 1798, as Caldwell Township from portions of Acquackanonk Township and Newark Township. The area was named for Rev. James Caldwell. It was incorporated as one of New Jersey's initial 104 townships by an act of the New Jersey Legislature on February 21, 1798.
Portions of the township were taken to create Livingston (February 8, 1813), Fairmount Township (March 11, 1862, now part of West Orange), Caldwell Borough (February 10, 1892), Verona Township (February 17, 1892, now known and including what is now Cedar Grove), North Caldwell (March 31, 1898), Essex Fells (March 31, 1902) and West Caldwell (February 24, 1904). By 1908 today’s individual “West Essex” township borders were basically established. Prior to organizing any formal police departments, these towns employed part time constables to protect their communities.
In 1892, Caldwell Borough became the first section to self-incorporate. About twenty years later Caldwell Borough established their first police department with the appointment of Chief John Markey. Initially he served alone, but by 1924 his one man department was expanded into six full time officers.
Fairfield (by default, the only remaining part of 1798 Caldwell Township) and West Caldwell (incorporated in 1904) were predominately farm country with much less need for law enforcement than the commercialized center of Caldwell. In West Caldwell, Constable Roscoe Conklin was paid fifty cents an hour for his duties and could enlist other “deputies” as was necessary. Constable Conklin was replaced when West Caldwell formally organized their first police department in 1924. William King was appointed chief and served alone for six years. His salary was $1,700 per year for a job that required him to be on call 24 / 7. He was not furnished any type of transportation or uniform and was only given a badge, a revolver, and a night stick. He also had many capable “deputies” who he could call upon when needed. In addition, Chief King was responsible for enforcing truancy and animal control. Traffic control was also a big part of his responsibilities with Bloomfield Avenue requiring constant attention, especially on weekends. West Caldwell added two full time patrolmen for Chief King in 1930 and 1931. Special officers continued to be available when needed.
In 1924, Caldwell Township (Fairfield) was still utilizing part time constables. Chief Constable Morris E. Collerd was Chief King’s counterpart with almost identical duties. As the story goes, the revolver he was issued was apparently not capable of “hitting the side of a barn” so he bought his own more accurate weapons. It’s likely those better revolvers were used most often for putting rabid animals out of their misery.
Every day, Chief Constable Collerd patrolled Caldwell Township (Fairfield) for about four hours and was paid seventy-five cents per hour with a few pennies for his personal motorcycle mileage.
Both King and Collerd worked out of their homes, and when cases could not be scheduled for municipal court, the wrongdoers were brought to the judge’s home for resolution. According to Morris’ wife Adelia:
“Many nights when he was out on duty I was awakened in my sleep by people calling on the phone and knocking at my door and have even sat up with a revolver on my lap but couldn’t say that I ever would have tried to use it. Maybe to frighten someone that is all.”
Chief Constable Collerd had several “deputies” that he frequently relied upon and who would eventually play a significant part in building upon the history of the personnel of the Fairfield Police Department. These deputies included Vincent Millane, Rudolph Geiger, John Filipow (the father of Fairfield’s 5th Police Chief Stephen Filipow and grandfather of former Fairfield Lieutenant Richard Filipow), Robert Henning, and Charles Voelker Sr ( Father of Fairfield’s 3rd Police Chief Charles Voelker and grandfather of Fairfield’s 9th Police Chief Charles ‘Chuck’ Voelker).
Chief Collerd was becoming increasingly disenchanted with his position. The part time job had grown into many full time responsibilities. His other jobs were Fairfield Reformed Church sexton and farmer on the large fifty acre Horseneck Road homestead with his father Abram, and brothers Ray and James.
Apparently, ticket “squashing” was the most frustrating aspect of the chief constable’s job. He was apparently quoted as saying “When an honest ticket was given out and probably around a $3.00 fine, sometimes there were 2 & 3 cops and many telephone calls to get these tickets squashed. This sickened me of the job……….”
At the end of 1935, after 11 years, Chief Constable Collerd resigned his position and never regretted his decision. Less than two years later, Caldwell Township organized a two man police department with former deputy Robert Henning becoming the first official Chief of Police for what would eventually become the Fairfield Police Department. Officer William Vanderhoof Sr. served with Chief Henning and eventually became Fairfield’s second Chief of Police. His son, William Vanderhoof Jr. would later join the police department and followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming the department’s 6th chief of police.
In 1937, they opened a new police headquarters in the newly constructed municipal building on Fairfield Road where it currently is located today. A third officer, Bejamin Kulick, was added in 1941, but it was not until the end of World War II that other officers were added. In 1945, Nicholas Willand and Charles Voelker Sr. were added and in 1948, Peter Scarpelli Sr. brought the police department to 6 officers.
In those early days, there were no real communications with the officers on patrol. Officers would be required to periodically drive past police headquarters and direct their attention to a light located on the outside of the building. If the light was illuminated, that would indicate that there was a call for police service pending. The officer would then stop into headquarters to receive the information needed to respond to the call.
On November 6, 1963, Caldwell Township was renamed as Fairfield Township, based on the results of a referendum passed the previous day and the Fairfield Police Department was established.
The current Fairfield Police Department has expanded with a table of organization that provides for (1) chief of police, (3) lieutenants, (12) sergeants, (24) officers, (7) Class II special police officers and (3) Class III special police officers.
SOME MAJOR CASES THRU THE YEARS
Midlantic Bank Robbery-In May 1977 three individuals armed with handguns and a shotgun entered the Midlantic Bank, which was located at 49 Little Falls Road, with the intent of robbing it. Luckily, an aware citizen noticed the individuals entering the bank and called the police. The citizen remained on the phone and updated responding officers as to what was occurring. The suspects left the bank pursued by a number of Fairfield officers. While in front of the Willowbrook Mall, the suspects’ vehicle became disabled and a shootout between the bank robbers and police occurred on the grass adjacent to the mall. One of the responding officers, Douglas Hartley, had the driver side of his patrol car end up against a fence, trapping him in the vehicle. One of the suspects then fired a shotgun blast which struck the front fender of Hartley’s police car. Hartley astutely returned fire through his windshield, striking the suspect. When the dust settled, one of the robbers was dead and two others were shot and arrested. No officers were injured. The incident was featured prominently on the cover of the May 7th, 1977 New York Daily News.
John Kennedy Jr. Plane Crash- During the late evening hours of July 16, 1999, the Fairfield Police Department became some of the first individuals to know what the entire world would eventually find out when they awoke the following morning. The plane carrying John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn and her sister Lauren had apparently taken off from the Essex County Airport in Fairfield but never arrived at its final destination in Martha’s Vineyard and were missing. Fairfield officers responded to the airport to investigate and apparently found JFK Jr’s car with a note and a rock on it. From the time of the initial report of the plane’s disappearance until it was ultimately found, Fairfield detectives worked with special agents from the F.B.I. to determine the origin of the note and to assure it was not related to the plane’s disappearance. The note writer was eventually found and it was determined that she was an admirer of JFK Jr. and had seen him stop into the gas station across from the airport and had left the note.
Arrest of Murder Suspect James Kenny Diloreto-On April 8, 1998, at about 10:30 p.m., Corporal Vincent Crapello spotted a vehicle in the parking lot of a hotel facing U.S. Highway 46. The vehicle attracted the officer s attention for various reasons. Using a mobile data terminal (MDT), the officer ran a check of the vehicle s license plate number, which revealed that the vehicle s last authorized driver was listed as an endangered missing person.
Corporal Crapello called for assistance and Officer Richard Filipow arrived on the scene. As their investigation proceeded, the officers recovered a loaded handgun magazine. A short time later, they recovered a loaded 9mm handgun.
The officers subsequently transported Diloreto to police headquarters where they learned that the NCIC report had been in error. The gun later was identified as the weapon used in a robbery and murder that had occurred at a gas station early on April 8, 1998, in Pequannock, Morris County. The police informed Diloreto of his rights. After waiving those rights, Diloreto gave a taped statement incriminating himself in the robbery and murder. Fingerprints found at the gas station and other evidence also connected him to the crimes.
Shooting of Fairfield Police Officer Gerald Veneziano- On January 30, 2010, at approximately 7:00 PM, the Fairfield Police Department came as close as it ever has, to losing one of their officers to an in the line of duty death. Three year veteran Officer Gerald Veneziano was on his way to work the 7P-7A shift when he noticed a vehicle following him along Route 3 and then onto Route 46 West. The officer pulled onto the shoulder of the road in order to let the vehicle continue on its way but the suspect vehicle also pulled onto the shoulder behind the officer’s vehicle. Officer Veneziano then proceeded towards Fairfield and tried to get an on duty Fairfield officer to stop and check on this vehicle but all officers were tied up on emergency calls. Only when Officer Veneziano finally arrived at the parking lot of police headquarters did the vehicle cease following him and pull into the parking lot of an adjacent commercial building.
At this point, Officer Veneziano decided to, at minimum, try and obtain the license plate of the suspect vehicle for later follow up so he then pulled into the same parking lot to find the vehicle stopped in the vacant lot. At this point, the officer pulled alongside of the suspect vehicle, identified himself as a police officer and asked the suspect what he was doing. It was then, without warning, the suspect fired into Veneziano’s car, striking him six times. The suspect fled in the vehicle and Officer Veneziano dragged himself into the street where residents attended to him until first responders could arrive. He was medivac to University Hospital in Newark where he was operated on and eventually would recover from his wounds.
What followed, for approximately the next few months, was one of the biggest manhunts in the history of both the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and the Fairfield Police Department in its search for the suspect. Authorities got a break in the case when a Nutley man named Praye Roberts was arrested in Union Township on February 13, 2010 for firing a weapon outside of a liquor store. It was later determined that the 9mm handgun recovered in the Union case matched the weapon used to shoot Officer Veneziano. Other investigative clues led Roberts to be charged with attempted murder and other criminal offenses. Roberts eventually plead guilty and was given a fifteen year sentence.
Arrests of Murder Suspect Tina Lunney-On July 22, 2009, Fairfield police were called to a Cole Road residence to investigate the death of 81 year old Marie Zoppi that was initially being reported by her daughter, Tina Lunney, as a possible suicide. Further investigation would reveal that Lunney brutally strangled her mother with her husband’s necktie and attempted to stage the crime as a suicide. After the murder, Lunney used her mother’s credit card to pay off debts with a collection agency, PSE&G, and to pay for a previously planned vacation with friends to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Lunney initially fled the jurisdiction to Atlantic City and was taken into custody by Fairfield officers when she returned and was found walking in the Township. Lunney gave police a statement admitting she strangled her mother. She also confessed to the crime in a five suicide notes found in her pocketbook when she was arrested. Following a three-week trial before the Honorable Thomas Moore, J.S.C., the jury deliberated for a day and a half before returning a guilty verdict. Lunney was sentenced to 40 years in New Jersey State Prison. She is required to serve 85-percent of her sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
Chief Constable Morris E. Collerd
Caldwell Township 1924-1936
Caldwell Township’s (Fairfield’s) First Police Car, a 1932 Chevrolet owned by Constable Morris E. Collerd valued at $600
(Photo on right) Lt. Stephen Filipow and Chief Charles Voelker examine the body of John Bucar who was fatally shot by Fairfield police after robbing the Midlantic Bank
(Photo on left) Fairfield Police Officer Douglas Hartley examines the shotgun blast that was directed at him during a shootout with three bank robbers
One of the many newspaper headlines from around the world announcing the disappearance and eventual untimely death of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife and sister-in-law
(Left Photo) Officer Gerald Veneziano after the shooting and upon returning to work
(Right Photo) Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and Fairfield Police officials announce the arrest of Praye Roberts for the shooting of Officer Veneziano at a press conference