|NJDOC Memorializes Baker, Commemorates Corrections Officer Day|
|By Matt Schuman, New Jersey Department of Corrections|
July 30 is among the most important days on the calendar for the New Jersey Department of Corrections. In 2012, legislation was signed into law designating July 30 as Corrections Officer Day, and each year, on that date, two key events – distinct, yet related – are presented by the Department. Corrections Officer Day commemorates those who have been killed in the line of duty and recognizes all officers for their extraordinary efforts and commitment to the Garden State.
So it was that on July 30, 2018, a service memorializing the 21st anniversary of the death of Officer Fred Baker was held at Bayside State Prison in Leesburg. As always, the memorial service began at 7:55 a.m. On that awful day in 1997, just a few hours after arriving for work – at precisely 7:55 a.m. – Officer Baker was stabbed to death by an inmate. The memorial ceremony was attended by NJDOC staff, various dignitaries, and friends and family of Officer Baker.
During his remarks, NJDOC Acting Commissioner Marcus O. Hicks, Esq., noted that from the moment recruits enter the Correctional Staff Training Academy, they learn of Officer Fred Baker’s legacy and compete for the Fred Baker Memorial Academic Award, which is presented at each graduation by a member of the Baker family. After graduation, he continued, officers are reminded of Officer Baker on a daily basis, as they suit up with a protective vest at the beginning of each shift, a practice that was established in New Jersey and beyond as a direct result of the tragic 1997 incident.
Those joining the Acting Commissioner at the podium included Senator Jeff Van Drew, Assemblyman Bruce Land and Bayside Administrator John Powell.
Among the most poignant moments of the service was the ringing of a bell 21 times – once for every year since Officer Baker’s death.
It was pointed out that the 2012 legislation designating July 30 as Corrections Officer Day often is referred to as Fred Baker’s Law.
Later in the day, at noon, on the grounds of the Department’s Central Office headquarters in Trenton, the NJDOC hosted a Corrections Officer Day ceremony. Among those on hand for the gathering were numerous members of Governor Phil Murphy’s Cabinet, including Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver. “We acknowledge the work you do, and we understand the challenges you are confronted with every day,” the Lt. Governor said. “That’s why it’s so important to Governor Murphy and me to support you in every way.”
Also in attendance were New York City Department of Corrections Commissioner Cynthia Brann, Policeman’s Benevolent Association (PBA), Local 105, President Brian Renshaw and Police Training Commission Administrator John Cunningham, who served as the guest speaker.
The event featured the unveiling of a new badge, to be worn by all NJDOC officers, that prominently features the word “police” – a reflection of legislation signed earlier this year that changed the title of custody staff members from Correction Officer to Correctional Police Officer. “Police” has become part of every officer rank within the NJDOC.
“As a Department, we should be incredibly proud of our new titles,” Hicks told those assembled. “This change is a direct result of your extraordinary efforts, and you have earned the respect of our elected officials, your colleagues in the law enforcement community and the public.”
The Acting Commissioner then expressed his appreciation to members of the custody staff on a personal level.
“Each day, you put on your uniform and accept responsibilities that demand selflessness and courage,” he stated. “You work long hours, take on extra shifts and put yourself at great risk to preserve the safety of others. The work you do is extremely critical to our mission and impacts the lives of our inmates, their families and our staff.”
As the ceremony progressed, Officer Baker and others whose names are inscribed on the Fallen Officers Memorial were solemnly remembered. A proclamation issued by Governor Murphy and Lt. Governor Oliver directed all state correctional facilities to fly the American and state flags at half-staff in honor of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The festivities concluded with the presentation of the Departmental Service Awards.
“Our most valuable resources,” said Brian Renshaw, president of PBA, Local 105, “are the people employed by this Department.”
Guest speaker John Cunningham, a longtime NJDOC employee now employed by the Police Training Commission, crafted his own definition of a Correctional Police Officer.
“You’re a dedicated, hardworking, often underappreciated professional law enforcement officer,” he said. “It is sometimes forgotten that you’re sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives, aunts and uncles, little league coaches, scout leaders, volunteer firefighters and members of the first aid squad.”
Cunningham offered words of advice for those in the audience, many of whom were former coworkers.
“Each morning,” he declared, “when you put on your uniform, wear it with pride and dignity.”
The Departmental Service Awards recipients were as follows:
Matt Schuman is a former newspaper reporter and editor who serves as the Public Information Office for the NJ Department of Corrections. He has been with NJDOC since 2000.
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