On a rainy night when he was about six years old, Thomas DeSimone was riding in the car with his parents and siblings on the Garden State Parkway in the northern part of the state.
A car accident was clogging traffic, but as he looked out of the window, DeSimone saw a police officer standing outside with a raincoat in the pouring rain. “That’s where I want to be; I want to be where the action was,” DeSimone recalls saying to himself. “Everyone was trying to get away from it, and pull away.”
Now DeSimone, a decorated Plainsboro Police lieutenant who has watched the town grown from fewer than 10,000 residents to more than 25,000 over the last 23 years, will be getting away from the career he was so drawn to as a kid. But it won’t be easy.
In fact, DeSimone does not want to walk out of his office in the police headquarters on Friday, May 28 for the last time. But it is time.
DeSimone, 50, grew up in Edison and Colonia. His father was a private investigator, and his mother was a registered nurse. Both of his grandfathers were in law enforcement. One was a federal narcotics agent, and the other was a police captain in Elizabeth.
In the summers, when he would come home from Montclair State University, DeSimone would work with his father on investigations. ‘I learned a lot of investigation techniques,” including how to do a canvas, and perform surveillance, he said.
When he was a junior in college, he began taking police and civil service tests. In 1985, he got a call from the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Department, offering him a job based on his civil service results. Upon accepting the job, DeSimone went through the police academy and began working first in the courts, transporting prisoners to and from court.
While he was picking up a prisoner for court at the Plainsboro Police Department one day, he began speaking with a sergeant, who told him Plainsboro was hiring. He gave DeSimone an application, and the rest was history.
DeSimone began working in Plainsboro on August 1, 1987. It was a big transition into patrol work, but DeSimone said he was mentored by good people, including former Chief Clifford Maurer. In 1991, DeSimone was promoted to a detective. He remained in the Detective Bureau until 1993. There, he worked on cases including sexual assault, a homicide, and a few serial burglaries. “It was a solid two years of really, really good investigative work.”
From 1990 to 1993, DeSimone also served as a PBA state delegate. In 1993, Plainsboro began holding promotional tests, and DeSimone requested time to study, so he was reassigned to patrol. The studying paid off, and he was promoted to sergeant in 1994, where he served for 10 years.
This was his favorite part of his career, he said. “We always say it’s the best job in the department,” he said. “You still work the road and respond to calls, but you serve as the middle man to upper management.” In this position, he was also to bring policies to his squad but also work closely with the command staff. “I don’t think there’s a cop who doesn’t tell you he doesn’t miss being on the road.”
DeSimone also volunteered to be a firearms instructor while he was a sergeant and retained that position ever since.
In 2004, he was promoted to lieutenant, where he has remained for the past six years. In this position, he oversees the Detective Bureau, Internal Affairs, and the Traffic Bureau.
Throughout his career, he has received numerous awards, including the most recent Police Unit Citation for the SWAT team, where he has served as commander from 2006 to 2010. He also received awards for arresting a homicide suspect and responding to the World Trade Center attacks.
During his tenure in the department, he has seen it grow from 14 officers to 35, and has seen the construction of the new hospital off Route 1. Despite the drastic increase in population, crime has remained proportionate. “That has a lot to do with our aggressive patrol,” he said.
His advice to Guy Armour, who will take his place on Tuesday, June 1? “When you come up to this level, if you don’t have a thick skin, you’re going to have to get one.”
A sergeant has to worry about his squad. A lieutenant has to worry about entire divisions, and it creates a larger separation between the lieutenant and the other officers. And as the department grows, “with increased numbers, there are increased headaches,” he said.
In a department that has traditionally had a few cases of discontent among its members, as described in anonymous letters to the media over the years. DeSimone said the best thing to do in this case is look at it professionally.
He said that when a matter like that is made public by someone on the inside, it becomes subject of an internal affairs investigation. Once that happens, there are certain rules that need to be followed, the most important of which is confidentiality.
“It is difficult to keep the morale up when you can’t communicate about it,” he said. Sometimes others can be overheard in the department talking about those issues, and in some cases, they are under misconceptions. However, “it’s very hard when you know differently, and you can’t explain.” Even when he knew the situation could be explained in a couple of paragraphs in an E-mail to someone, he had to act professionally.
But it is important to try to keep morale up. “I can’t make you feel good about your job; I can only provide an environment for you to excel at your job.” This includes setting parameters and giving his employees the tools necessary to allow them to excel.
One thing that has proven to make a difference recently is the number of officers in the department who have earned advanced degrees or who have gone back to finish their undergraduate degrees, noted DeSimone, who earned his master’s degree in 2009 from Fairleigh Dickinson University. “It’s shown a huge difference in the way they’re solving problems.”
Upon retirement, DeSimone said he is in the process of obtaining a new career in the private sector. While he does not want to leave police work behind, he said it is the right time for him and his family. DeSimone and his wife, a nurse, who live in Freehold, have four children — a daughter in graduate school, a son who is a junior in college, and daughters at the senior and sophomore levels of high school.
Everyone in his life and in the department have been excited for him, he said. “I don’t feel the same excitement,” he said, saying he will miss his work.