By JOHN T. WARD
Shrewsbury’s not the only town on the Green to have had a changing of the guard in its police department this week.
On Monday, the same day Lou Ferraro was sworn in as chief in Shrewsbury, Scott Paterson’s elevation to acting chief in Rumson quietly took effect. He’s expected to be sworn in as chief on January 1.
Low-key and unceremonious is fine with Paterson, a lieutenant who’d been serving as “officer in charge,” in the words of a council resolution, since former Chief Rick Tobias stepped away to burn off accumulated vacation time on August 1.
“It’s not about me,” Paterson told redbankgreen in an interview in his small, utilitarian office in the basement of Memorial Hall on Wednesday. “I think the guys who work here need to know that I hold myself no better than the highest or lowest-ranking employee.”
A 46-year-old with 19 years in the department, Paterson grew up in Fair Haven, graduated from Rumson-Fair Haven Regional, and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in pyschology from what was then still known as Monmouth College.
An interest in environmental issues led him to look for work as a conservation officer, which morphed into pursuit of a police badge when a job opened up on the Rumson squad.
Since joining the department in 1993, Paterson has held the ranks of patrolman, sergeant and lieutenant, serving as second-in-command for the past two years.
Tobias, whose retirement also took effect Monday, had served with the department for 30 years, the last six as chief. Paterson was chosen as his successor over two other in-house lieutenants, Christopher York and Jeff Nixon.
“Scott’s a tremendous leader, and has the respect of the police department,” Mayor John Ekdahl told redbankgreen. “He’s easygoing, but also commanding.”
Among his objectives, Paterson said, is to get out from behind his desk to roam the town one day a week, and make regular visits to schools. In his time on the force, he’s been deeply involved in outreach to kids and families about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, heading up the department’s juvenile division.
“If you can help a child, especially in your own community, that’s really rewarding,” he said. That’s been the most satisfying aspect of his work, he said, enabling him to apply some of his education in psychology to real life.
But the challenge is now greater, he acknowledged, in the wake of a survey of R-FH students last year that uncovered widespread experimentation with drugs and booze, prompting the school and the governments in the two sending towns to ramp up awareness efforts.
Paterson said he’s working on a plan to expand the police department’s role in the schools, a need he described as “paramount.”
Having grown up locally, Paterson said he’s aware that “the issue’s always been here. But what’s changed is that the parents have become a little more accepting” of drinking by kids, a mindset he hopes to address through education and ramped-up enforcement, employing “higher-level statutes” in charging violators, where appropriate.
Paterson lives in Tinton Falls with his wife and seven-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. When’s he’s not in uniform, he’s often in his second role: chairman of Ducks Unlimited of New Jersey. Contrary to a common misconception, he said, the organization is not about duck hunting, but about wetlands and animal conservation.
Like many of its members, Paterson is a hunter, and has been all his life, having learned to hunt at the elbow of his late grandfather, Lester Youmans, the longtime owner of Red Bank Television, a repair shop.