Police Chief Trevena Leads by Example

Boy Scout award recalls start of 28-year career in law enforcement.

To Chief John Trevena, there are few things more important than the role of a leader, and to that extent, he leads the with the utmost respect for staff and as a role model for youth and the community.

"He has an excellent way of a maintaining an open spirit of communications," said Madison Ptl. Chad Rybka. "Officers always feel free to come to him. It's an excellent trait. He's a leader not just for other officers but for the whole community."

It was altogether fitting that Trevena, after 28 years in law enforcement, was selected as an recipient of the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award by the Patriots' Path Council of the Boy Scouts of America on Wednesday night at the Hanover Marriott in Whippany.

The Boy Scouts actively seek out prominent members of the community to be recipients of the award, which is based on the honoree's embodiment of Scout Law — trustworthy, loyal, obedient, cheerful, helpful, thrifty, brave, clean, courteous, kind and reverent.

"I knew he was a leader and going to be chief when I met him as a sergeant," said Madison Mayor Mary-Anna Holden, who was on hand for the ceremonies.

Trevena's position as chief and selection for the Lifetime Achievement Award are no accidents. It's one thing to be pleasant and perform the basic duties of one's job, quite another to take the initiative that forms the basis for good leadership.

Trevena joined the Madison Police Department in 1986 as a patrolman after serving three years with the Morris Township Police Department, beginning at age 19. Since then, Trevena spent six years as a detective and was promoted to the rank of sergeant in 1996, where he assumed command of a patrol squad. He also was assigned to the detective bureau, where he developed a street crimes initiative that was tasked with addressing alcohol and narcotic violations occurring throughout the borough.

"It is a two-man unit and has been very successful," Trevena said. "Given the ebbs and flows [of the budget] it had to go away for a while but I just recently re-instituted it a couple of years ago and it works phenomenally well. There isn't a shortage of work for them."

In 2001 Trevena was promoted to the rank of lieutenant and assumed command of the Patrol Division. As the Patrol Division Commander, Trevena was responsible for overseeing the four patrol squads, as well as the patrol fleet, radio system, computer system and training functions for the police department. He was promoted to captain in 2002, responsible for overseeing the Patrol Division, Investigative Division and Traffic Divisions. In August 2008, Trevena was named Chief of Police.

"I am proud to be in an organization that is seen as one of the best in Morris county," Trevena said. "We have an excellent reputation with the prosecutor's office and attorneys, and we are the leader in DWI preparations. The success of my organization lies in its people. The best leaders focus on their key people, give them a job to do and get out of their way."

Trevena said he has a participative management style. For example, if an officer on his staff brings forward a viable technology initiative, Trevena is more likely than not to try it.

"I think that's key to an organization that a guy can come to a boss with suggestions for improvement," Trevena said. "One of my hallmarks has been, it's alright to complain but the very next sentence out of your mouth better contain a solution."

Although he is willing to try new technologies, Trevena said it must be balanced with good old-fashioned police work, such as manning the 125-year old walk post in town.

"You can't just stay in the car and cut yourself off from the community — that doesn't work."

A resident of neighboring Chatham, Trevena is a graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University, and graduated from several advanced management courses during his 28-year career. At 48, he has a son who has graduated from FDU as well and another son at Seton Hall University and stepchildren in the Chatham school system.

As Chief, Trevena is a firm believer in education, both formal and professional. He cites as an example an officer on his staff who is a DRE, or drug recognition expert, trained at understanding the effects of ingested drugs. "I have sent my staff to some pretty good schools to be trained," Trevena said.

Trevena's other professional accomplishments are as a graduate of the internationally recognized West Point Command and Leadership Program, and the nationally recognized School of Police Staff and Command at Northwestern University. He is also a Certified Law Enforcement Executive by the New Jersey State Chiefs of Police, and a certified Public Manager by the New Jersey Department of Personnel. Although preparatory in nature, few of those certifications can protect an officer from the unexpected, and to be sure, Trevena has had some scares, however innocuous they may seem in retrospect.

"I recall a midnight tour — responding to a comment that there was a guy in a room, Trevena said. "I get there with another guy with guns drawn, we open up one door and a guy pops up from the bed. We almost shot him. It was a drunk kid who lived in the house but it scared the heck out of me."

Despite a few close calls, Trevena said he loves what he does and plans to lead his squad for some time to come. Having lost his father at age nine, Trevena entered scouting because "I liked the values they stood for, I liked a cause that meant something and I even liked the uniform. The experience put me on the path to law enforcement— it was going to be military service or law enforcement. Looks like I chose the right one."

Other recipients of the Boy Scouts Lifetime Achievement Award Wednesday were George T. Barnard IV, an Eagle Scout and plumber; Dr. Walter Rosenfeld, chairman of pediatrics at Goryeb Children's Hospital at the Morristown Medical Center and Overlook Medical Center, and David Walker, executive director at the Morristown Neighborhood House.


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