High hopes for new Linden police chief

LINDEN, NJ — After a rough couple of years at the Linden Police Department, Linden will be getting a new chief of police.

With the retirement of outgoing Chief James Schulhafer, Captain Jonathan Parham will be taking over as Linden’s new Provisional Chief of Police and will be sworn in today.

Parham, 47, came to the department in 1992, initially working in the Patrol Division. After leaving the LPD for a brief period in 1996 to work for the Union County Prosecutor’s Office as the head drill sergeant for the academy, Parham returned to the LPD in 1998 and worked his way up to sergeant, after which he became commander of the Community Policing Division. He also helped form a SWAT Team in conjunction with Homeland Security, where officers were trained in explosives, counter-terrorism and protecting infrastructure against terrorist attacks. Parham became a captain in the department, leading policy management, fleet management and IT.

Parham comes with a well-rounded and diverse set of skills and experiences. A Linden native, Parham attended Linden schools throughout his entire school career. A member of Boy Scouts, choir, marching band and wrestling team, he received a full scholarship to Rutgers’ Mason Gross School for the Performing Arts as a voice performance major. He was also involved in the Navy ROTC program from its inception, and was appointed the first company commander of the program. He also is a lifelong student of Judo and Karate, and has black belts in both.

According to Parham, who will be the first black police chief in Linden’s history, he will be working on many initiatives as soon as he starts his new position as head of the department. “Manpower is number one,” Parham told LocalSource in a phone call. “As chief, I will always lobby for manpower.”

Parham said that the department needs 130 officers but currently is down to just 123 officers. “We have 60,000 incidents a year,” said Parham. “The call volume increases every year,” said Parham. “We have more jobs but fewer men.”

Another initiative that Parham will be tackling is training. He said that the training of operational and command staff at the department is imperative. “If we train better, we can perform better,” he said.

Prioritizing calls into the department is another important issue that needs to be addressed, according to Parham.

“We’ll be having an audit on the types of calls we are taking,” Parham said. “We will be prioritizing. What we do now is answer any call that comes in. If you call, we come, but that can’t sustain itself.”

Parham said that residents will be offered easier and more convenient options for less serious calls, and that the LPD will be reaching out in the coming weeks to offer better options for residents, while decreasing the number of calls that the LPD takes. “We will have differential call-taking,” said Parham. “People will be able to fill out reports over the phone.”

To this end, Parham said that the LPD will be holding several town hall meetings, as well as taking surveys to find out the needs of the residents. “In essence, the residents are our customers,” he said.

According to Parham, differential call-taking is crucial, especially at a time when manpower at the department is down. “Our officers are working so much overtime,” said Parham. “We want them fresh.”

Linden Mayor Derek Armstead said he is excited to have Parham aboard.
“We’re trying to move the department in a new direction,” Armstead told LocalSource in a phone call. “I think that Chief Parham is the best man to take us in that direction. He has the respect not only of the command staff, but also of the rank-and-file.”

Armstead said that Parham is especially equipped because of his deep connection to the city. “He grew up in Linden,” Armstead said of Parham. “He knows Linden.”

Lt. Michael Babulski, president of the Linden Superior Officer’s Association, told LocalSource that he is pleased with Parham’s commitment to increasing manpower at the LPD. “Our officers have been worked to the bone,” Babulski said in a phone call. “Everybody’s burned out from overtime. Our complement hasn’t been increased at the LPD in 40 years.”

In June, Armstead, along with the council, introduced an ordinance to hire a police director. That, according to Babulski, has been put on hold for now, and he said that the police officers’ unions are pleased about that. “I believe that the mayor is in favor of hiring a new police chief,” said Babulski. “The PBA and LSOA support Chief Parham and we thank the mayor and the council for listening to us. They didn’t disregard the unions.”

The LPD has had its share of controversy over the last few years. In 2015, Linden police Officer Pedro Abad was indicted on manslaughter charges after an alleged drunk-driving incident, when he crashed head-on into another vehicle that killed a fellow officer and another friend on Staten Island. Then, in May of this year, Police Sgt. William Turbett III, the son of a captain at the LPD, was charged with dealing marijuana.

Parham said that he will address some of the department’s past troubles by looking carefully at what has been done in the past that can be done differently going forward. “In order to learn from our missteps, we need to conduct an analysis of what occurred, what the agency response was, and how that response may have differed from best practices,” said Parham. “Prior to moving forward, we need to take a critical look at where we’ve been and identify what we could have done better.”

Parham said that another one of his goals is to improve the general quality of life for Linden’s residents. “There are quality of life issues, and I want to inject these fixes and let the public know,” said Parham. “We need feedback from residents.”

Parham said that he will be busy on social media platforms like Twitter in order to collect resident feedback and to reach out to residents. “This will be a transition period,” said Parham, who cites the need for a stronger connection between members of the LPD and residents. “If there’s any disconnect, it’s been with the people,” he said. “We need to be hands-on, to reach out to the community. We go to the public only when we want something. We need to forge those relationships before we need something. We need to have good relationships with the people because it’s the right thing to do.”

Parham said that he looks forward to reaching out to the community on many levels.

Schulhafer lauded the choice of Parham as Linden’s new chief of police. “I think that Captain Parham is an excellent choice to be the next chief,” Schulhafer told LocalSource in an email. “He is well- schooled in law enforcement issues, including having attended the West Point Command and Leadership Academy. I think that he will be a fine representative of the Linden Police Department and continue to move the department forward.”

A meet-and-greet with Parham will be held at Linden Public Library on Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. and is open to the public.