“A great ride”

Former Chief of Police Rafael Muniz was honored with the Rick Zammer Award for his dedication to the township.

By Krista Cerminaro

Former Washington Township Chief of Police Rafael Muniz says it’s been a great ride, but for the 2018 Rick Zammer award recipient, it isn’t exactly over.

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After a lengthy career in law enforcement, Muniz, who was recently honored for his various contributions to Washington Township by the Greater Washington Township Chamber of Commerce, was retired for just three days before embarking on his next journey as security manager at Jefferson Health in Washington Township. Muniz is also undergoing training to become emergency management coordinator.

“I knew I wasn’t going to retire — I knew I fulfilled my mission there, and I just said, ‘you know what? It’s time to look for something else.’”

The Rick Zammer Award recipient is chosen each year by the board of directors. According to director of community events Nicole Lannutti, Muniz was chosen for the number of initiatives he brought to the township during his time as chief. He was honored at an awards dinner and ceremony on April 25, where Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera, Freeholder Heather Simmons, state division of Jefferson Health President and Executive Vice President of Hospital and Health Services Joseph Divine, and Muniz’s family members recognized his achievements and service to the community.

“When I would see recipients receive this award years back,” Muniz explained, “I knew they spent a lot of time giving back to the community and doing so much. Never did I even think that I would even be considered for something like that. I just did my job, as a chief and as a police officer. I never thought for any recognition or awards, and for somebody to just recognize you for the years of service you put in as a chief, it’s very humbling and [I’m] very appreciative that they would recognize me for that.”

At the ceremony, Muniz was touched by the words of his son, who credited his father for still coaching his sports teams after working long hours and for setting a great example of how to become a man, and his daughter, who said Muniz set the standard for the type of man she wants to marry someday.

“That’s all you can ask — as a father– for your kids just to say ‘thank you,’” Muniz said. “That was really emotional to me, to see that.”

Aside from his role as a devoted father and husband, Muniz held many other notable titles in his lifetime.

Muniz worked with the Port Authority in the ’80s, before coming to Washington Township in 1989. He worked for the major crimes task force in Camden, doing undercover jobs and wiretap operations among other duties, and in 1993, he was assigned to the narcotics unit. Muniz was also a K9 officer and member of the SWAT team for roughly eight years. In 2004, he became lieutenant, and was appointed as chief of police in 2006, where he served the department for 10 and a half years, bringing forth ample programs and initiatives.

“One thing I always emphasize is, it’s not just me. It was everyone — my command staff, police officers on the street — we always tried to be the best we could. We became an accredited agency, I believe it was in 2012,” Muniz explained. “Every single policy we had, we reviewed each one, we revamped each one, we changed it just to become a higher level than anyone else, and that was a lot of work.”

Among these initiatives were going paperless and developing a Document Maintenance System, bringing forth active shooter drills post-Columbine, starting the Kid Fit program for officers to exercise with the younger kids in town, starting a program that helped use motorcycles to aid in military homecomings and honor personnel, and increasing the Youth Academy from one week to two — giving kids the opportunity to work out with officers, learn about crime scene investigation, meet superior court judges, SWAT team members and observe K9 demonstrations.

Additionally, Muniz helped start a youth explorer program to lead adolescents into a career in law enforcement, implemented Simunition Training and a taser program.

“This was in light of all the things that were going on in this country — the shooting of officers, attack[s] on officers — we wanted to equip and train our officers the best we could,” Muniz said. “In light of all the shootings of police officers and so forth, I just felt it was import that we should use every level of force before we use our firearms, so we instituted the taser program.”

Muniz, along with the help of additional officers, also assisted in fundraising to bring more K9 dogs to the department, and started a motorcycle run, Ride to Remember, in memory of losing Corp. Steve Levy, which Muniz said was the saddest moment of his career.

The bike run, which originally helped raise funds to build a memorial for Levy at Washington Lake Park, was eventually turned over to the Gloucester County Hero Scholarship Fund.

After years of not having an honor guard, Muniz said the department was also able to bring that back, purchase uniforms, train officers to do the 21-gun salute for Memorial Day and Veterans Day services, and even present colors at several Eagles games.

“We just want to bring more pride to our officers,” Muniz said. “We were very big on training.”

“One of my standards was, we wanted to hire the best of the best,” Muniz continued. “We developed a very good testing program, an entrance exam and promotional process, which I thought tested the officers [and] made them work to become a police officer and eventually get promoted.”

According to Muniz, none of it would be possible without what he considers a tremendous police department, and of course, the support of his family throughout his career.

“I just have to give credit to the great staff that I have, and support of my wife and family and the great officers that we have. We are the best police department in Gloucester County,” Muniz said. “It was a great ride.”

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