Police Chief Patrick Gurcsik plans for department expansion, community engagement

Reorganizing the department with additional staff, adding a K-9, and officer-community involvement all part of a 100-day plan, Chief Gurcsik said.

Police Chief Patrick Gurcsik, appointed to the position with a unanimous vote from town council, says he plans to make decisions for the betterment of the department and residents.

After 25 years in uniform, Patrick Gurcsik was appointed Washington Township police chief at the beginning of this year with a unanimous vote from the township’s council.

Former Police Chief Rafael Muniz announced his retirement at the end of last year, and Mayor Joann Gattinelli selected Gurcsik for the position.

“It’s a tremendous responsibility, it feels a little surreal still. I’ve received tremendous support from the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police), the local PBA (Police Benevolent Association), business leaders in town, friends, family and prior police chiefs,” Gurcsik said. “I am the ninth police chief in the history of the department. I’ve had four prior Washington Township police chiefs reach out to me for advice and congratulations.”

Much of the advice given to Gurcsik involved leadership style, he said.

“I think I’m relatable to the men and women on the force. I spent 25 years in uniform, mostly during those years I was assigned to the patrol division, so I worked many, many nights, holidays, weekends; so I came up through the ranks. I won’t forget where I came from, and I won’t forget that I work for the men and women in the police force, they don’t work for me,” Gurcsik said.

Gurcsik, one of six in his family, grew up in Washington Township. His grandparents bought land more than 50 years ago, which his parents built their house on. His father was a printer, and his mother was a homemaker.

Gurcsik and his brother Frank became police explorers in 1986 through Boy Scouts of America, an educational training program for youth interested in having a career in law enforcement. He said he became a dispatcher at the police force in 1988, and from there became a special police officer. In 1992, after graduating from the Gloucester County Police Academy, he was hired full time as a police officer.

“We had an instructor that told us we would have front row seats to the greatest show on earth, and I’ve discovered that to be true,” Gurcsik said. “It’s exciting, rewarding and fun, but you also see people at their worst sometimes — drunk drivers, domestic violence victims and grieving parents when they learn of a child’s death. Sometimes it’s not easy. Through all of that, I’ve learned police officers must be calm, brave, helpful and above all hopeful that we can make a difference in the community.”

Gurcsik is working on goals and initiatives for the department, such as increasing the size of the department with additional staff, implementing a new organizational structure, creating better community engagement and adding a new K-9 unit to the patrol division.

“The patrol bureau is the backbone of the police department. They work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I have to make sure our resources are available 24/7, so we’re going to try to announce a hiring process where there will be a written test, a physical fitness test and oral interviews, so possibly, later in the year, we can put some additional police officers on the force,” Gurcsik said. “Upgraded training for the officers and providing better equipment to ensure safety for law enforcement and residents is also a part of this plan to improve.”

Additionally, there is a new organizational structure to the police department that will be introduced to “streamline the chain of command,” Gurcsik said. A new administrative bureau and administrative office of professional standards, formerly known as operations, will be built into the department’s framework. The new bureaus will accompany the patrol bureau and investigative bureau, which have previously been in place.

“The administrative bureau will handle grant applications, research and administration, all of the OPRA requests for the police department, and will be in charge of the facilities, logistics and supplies,” Gurcsik said. “The administrative office of professional standards will handle many follow-ups of community-related issues, assist with warrants and surveillance, help with the hiring process, intelligence, in-service training, maintaining reports, field training officer programs and community outreach.”

Community police engagement is an initiative Gurcsik plans to execute this year within the entire department.

“Community policing cannot be a particular unit’s responsibility, it has to be the entire police department’s responsibility, every single officer, every day. It’s going to be the main principle of our agency’s culture; officers are going to engage in the community,” Gurcsik said.

Some events the department intends to participate in include Toys for Tots, coffee with a cop, a junior police academy during the summer, food drives, super Saturdays, K-9 demos, trunk or treat, and book-bag drives for kids in town. Gurcsik said he and officers will also be participating in the Helping Hands Hoagie Sale on Super Bowl Sunday.

“Non-enforcement community engagement activities make a huge contribution to building and maintaining lasting relationships and trust in the community. The fact that an officer goes out of his way to participate in something that is important to a certain segment of our community shows that the officer cares about the community and not just enforcing the law,” Gurcsik said. “I want to encourage, engage and empower our officers, especially the young officers or those coming out of the academy to think outside the box, look at our town and try to identify and address the needs of the community.”

Gurcsik will be appointing a social media coordinator to keep residents informed through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Last year, Gurcsik said the department raised close to $30,000 in fundraising and plans to use those funds to put another officer and K-9 through training, a program strictly funded by donations of residents and local businesses.

“You can’t put a price tag on officer safety, and I think the K-9 unit helps keep our officers safe and our residents safe,” Gurcsik said.

Gurcsik also plans to discuss with the Board of Education ways to add school resource officers to the district.

“I think it makes a difference in the life of kids, and nothing is more critical than the safety of our children. SROs build relationships and trust, and students identify with police officers so they can go to them when they need help,” Gurcsik said.

Gurcsik has two sons, Anthony, 14, and Angelo, 16. He married his wife, a first-grade teacher in Williamstown, in 1995. When not working, Gurcsik said he gets involved within the community, having coached basketball and baseball, and spends time with his family and their 2-year-old German shepherd, Bandit.