Longtime Gloucester Township police officer Melissa Capanna will retire Thursday after 25 years of service to the community. She will do so with the rank of lieutenant, a first for a female in the department’s history.
Capanna – now the department’s community relations director – was a patrol officer from 1998 to 2012 before taking the promotional exam in 2014 to make sergeant. She was promoted to lieutenant in 2019.
Capanna is a third-generation township officer: Her father, Nort Davis Jr., retired as a deputy chief. Father and daughter even served together, something Capanna said was difficult at first. But she grew to appreciate the experience as she matured on the job.
“That’s what I grew up around,” she noted.
Capanna graduated from Highland High School and attended Camden County College. From there, she entered the police academy.
“You could say that is where my interest came (her father and grandfather) from,” Capanna recalled. “So I got hired in 1998, went to the academy, went through (a path) like a regular police officer …”
Capanna continued to advance in the ranks, and now looks forward to retirement. While she hasn’t decided what’s next, Capanna could stay on the force as a retiree, but is comfortable with her decision to leave after working in multiple units for the police department, including as a School Resource Officer.
With each promotion, Capanna took on more responsibility, something for which she was ready.
“You can lose friendships once you become a supervisor,” she acknowledged. “Patrolman to sergeant was easier than sergeant to lieutenant. Once you become a lieutenant, you basically become part of the administration …
“The hardest part is gaining your guys’ trust, getting them to want to follow your lead,” added Capanna, who has established herself as a trusted member of not only the department, but the community in her communications role.
While she is the first and only female lieutenant on the township force, Capanna looks forward to seeing the three remaining female officers grow into the department in what is a male-dominated field.
“I don’t like talking about (being the only female), because we know coming into the job it’s male dominated,” she observed. “But it can be a struggle for women. (Sometimes) we have to prove ourselves more. We’re always looked at and being watched more so than the men are.”
When not on the job, Capanna enjoys spending time with her son, something she looks forward to in retirement despite being unsure about her future.
“I wanna take six months to myself,” she noted. “Focus on myself and do some things that I have not been able to do, because really, (in this) job when you’re off duty you are on duty. We’re married to our phones, constantly taking calls, so it is going to be nice to have the summer off.”
Capanna does have some trips planned that she looks forward to.
“I do want to visit some family in California …’’ she said. “I really want to just take time off and hang out with my family.”
Capanna fully expects to work as hard on her last day as she did her first.
“People have asked me, like, ‘So, what are you doing?’” she said. “But I just tell them, ‘I am still full-blown working.’”
Reflecting on her career as a whole, Capanna described what stands out about her time on the police force.
“I loved my job … I am ready to retire, so when I walk out those doors, I’m going to be pretty happy,” she said with a chuckle. “What sticks out to me – because it was a big achievement for me – was becoming a lieutenant and the first female lieutenant (in department history).”