LINDEN, NJ — Former Linden Police Chief Jonathan Parham hoped his one-year tenure as the city’s first African-American commanding officer would set an example for other minorities who work hard toward their own goals.
“I don’t think even I can fully understand the impact that it has, not just on African Americans, but on anyone who thinks they can’t do it because of a perceived setback they may have,” Parham told LocalSource on Dec. 15, his last day before retiring.“‘Maybe it’s my race, maybe it’s my education, maybe it’s my gender, sexual orientation.’ Whatever it is, there really shouldn’t be anything to hold you back.”
Parham, who retired after 25 years, spent his final year as chief. His tenure as Linden’s top cop was marked by the department’s 2016 apprehension of Ahmad Khan Rahami, who was convicted of planting bombs in Manhattan. Rahami faces federal charges related to bombs found in Seaside Park and Elizabeth.
Parham’s last official shift on the force was Dec. 15, when colleagues gathered for a small ceremony inside the John T. Gregorio Recreation Center to commemorate his last sign-off over the police radio.
Mayor Derek Armstead appointed Capt. David Hart as the department’s next chief. Hart has been with the department for 30 years and currently serves as an administrative captain. He previously served as head of the Investigative and Uniform Services Division and the city’s Office of Emergency Management. He has worked locally as a certified paramedic for 30 years, and has been a member of the Union County Pipes & Drums since its 2001 inception.
The mayor praised Parham for setting “the tone for what has to happen” in the police department and was confident Hart will build upon Parham’s work.
“I think that some of the policies and procedures implemented are going to be able to be carried forth with (Parham’s) command standing that he has in place now, that are going to be taking over once he leaves,” Armstead said during the ceremony. “I think he’s done a great job preparing them to move this department in the direction it needs to go in. I can’t thank him enough for all he’s done.”
Spending just one year as chief was all Parham felt he needed to accomplish the goals he set out to achieve, such as better communication within the department and with the public.
“We believe in telling good news fast and bad news faster,” Parham said.
Officers from neighboring towns, including Clark Police Chief Pedro Matos, attended the departure ceremony for Parham and two other Linden Police Department retirees: Capt. William Turbett, who served for about 21 years, and Lt. William Mack, who retired after 20 years.
Parham was appointed chief in 2016 after a tumultuous period in the department’s history, which included former officer Pedro Abad being charged and later convicted with aggravated vehicular homicide. While driving drunk in 2015 on Staten Island, Abad killed a fellow officer and a civilian.
Although the mayor wanted to hire a police director to turn the department around at that time, NJ Advance Media reported, the city’s police unions wanted to be led by someone from within their own ranks.
The Union County Prosecutor’s Office took over the Linden Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division after an investigation found that the department had not properly disciplined Abad for two prior drunken-driving crashes. The prosecutor’s office stopped overseeing the Internal Affairs Division at the conclusion of 2017, a spokesman for the office said Jan. 2.
Angel Padilla, one of the officers hailed as a hero in Rahimi’s apprehension during a shootout, was charged with DWI in Linden in August 2017. His case was transferred to Elizabeth and he retired from the department shortly thereafter.
Linden Superior Officers Association President Sgt. Joseph Birch said he supported Hart’s promotion to chief in a phone interview. Hart received the highest score on the promotional exam, Birch said.
Hart and Parham have worked together over the years, and Hart praised his predecessor, saying, “I want to thank Chief Parham for his leadership over the past year. I am very proud of this department and all that we have accomplished, and I am humbled at the opportunity to lead these men and women serving our community.”