While he will occupy the executive office and “the role of CEO,” it’s unusual to catch Plainsboro’s new chief of police in a suit and tie. Guy Armour wears his police uniform three days a week.
Upon taking over from Richard Furda on October 1, Armour immediately brought diversity, educational and technological innovation, and management technique to the department. In addition, as Mayor Peter Cantu noted in announcing the appointment, Armour brings interpersonal skills that will be a key to lead, mentor, and develop some of the young officers and those new to the job. Fifty percent of Plainsboro’s patrol division now have fewer than three years experience.
With 18 years experience on the force, Armour says he wants to utilize the remaining seven years he has until retirement to build on Furda’s example and implement three agendas: technology, participative management, and collaboration.
Armour sees reaching out to residents on quality of life issues they want addressed as a main objective. He said he will solicit input from homeowners’ associations and ethnic groups to compile a survey of what residents want. The goal is to take the success of Plainsboro’s community policing one step further “to get a lock on what the community wants rather than us telling them what they want,” Armour says.
With Plainsboro’s new information technology system to assist in dispatch and records management, Armour says the department wants to leverage its technology to be at the forefront of police departments in New Jersey.
“We have a lot of young officers who bring a lot of technological skills with them from their college experiences and the things that they do,” he says.
With the brand new PHCS hospital set to open in Plainsboro in May 2012, Armour set up a committee to integrate police coverage and response with the additional service needs coming to the area.
“We are looking at integrating the hospital with the community and the police department, and we are working collaboratively with hospital staff and security to make sure our people know the layout and know where every wing is. We will do active training in the hospital to prepare for anything that could possibly happen,” Armour says.
Hurricane Irene offered a barometer of what the department could do to inform the public in an emergency situation. Armour pinpointed the use of Facebook, Twitter, and the police website to get the message out to a broader audience.
“The largest growing audience on Facebook, believe it or not, is 50 and over. What that tells me as the incoming police chief is that we need to leverage this technology because when people are out there looking for what might happen or what roads are closed, you can have that on Facebook. They can have information at their hands instead of having to wait or calling the police department,” he says.
Armour says the only problem he foresees is limiting the ability of users to post inappropriate content because the department does not have the manpower for someone to monitor the web pages continuously. The new Spillman information technology system will also be used to assess reports and show the department where the police’s inefficiencies are.
“If you pull a one-month time frame and you find that there will be X amount of motor vehicle accidents in one location, Spillman will tell you where all your problem areas are and our officers will subsequently conduct selective enforcement operations to be able to conduct more aggressive traffic enforcement,” Armour said.
With the trend of burglaries targeting Indian households in Plainsboro raising concerns this summer, the Spillman system can help combat crime by predicting the probabilities of where another burglary would hit based on street addresses. Armour says the system would map out everywhere burglaries occurred, and when police enter in the parameters the system would compile a report to predict possible targeted homes.
Armour earned his bachelor’s degree in arts and communications from Thomas Edison State College in 1991. He’s heading back to school on Saturdays next spring to work toward a master’s degree in administrative science at Fairleigh Dickinson University, where he’s already completed nine credits and a state-sponsored certified public manager program.
Although he took leave for the fall semester to acclimate to his new position as head of the department, Armour is teaching and learning every day. In his new corner office Armour keeps thick binders outlining lessons he has studied on “strategies for decision making and problem solving” and “creative thinking and teamwork.”
“There is absolute recognition to know that you have to further your education in this career. To do this job nowadays and not have the educational elements to back you up isn’t an option. Policing has changed and become so diametrically different than it was 18 years ago. There’s a lot of case law that’s changed and court decisions that have come out. With that everything is a lot more complicated than it used to be,” Armour says.
Accordingly the new chief has encouraged younger officers to go back to school. “I don’t know of too many police departments where everybody is in some form of bachelor’s or master’s program. I can’t tell my officers out there to further their education if I don’t do it myself. I also look at my kids and say I can’t tell them to go for their master’s degree if I don’t do it so I try to be a role model,” Armour says.
Armour says that he likes to encourage a participative management approach, which means giving every person a stake in the organization.
Armour wants to give his personnel at the lowest level of the organization the authority to solve problems. If they can’t he says he will guide them and direct them, but he says this approach will engage and empower officers to the point where they do a better job in the future.
“As a chief I don’t have all the answers at the bottom line of the organization. Some of these young guys could bring answers for a problem we never thought about. The common thinking is that the people closest to the problem, meaning patrol officers, are also closest to the solution,” he says.
“When you first come in this job you think you’re going to save the world. As a young officer you’ll make a lot of arrests and you have chances to influence people’s lives. But what I feel to be most rewarding in my career is being involved with the juvenile programs, which I did for almost 10 years,” he said.
When Armour became a detective sergeant in 2005 he decided to continue teaching the D.A.R.E. program to maintain the opportunity to talk to kids about peer pressure, drugs and alcohol, and to send them home with a message.
“My father was such a strong father figure so he took the marine corps attitude towards raising us. I was always scared of my dad and always afraid of letting him down,” he said.
Armour’s family heritage is French Creole. His parents, both teachers, are originally from New Orleans and most of his brothers and sisters were born there. But the family eventually headed to the Northeast, partly to escape racial bias.
Armour’s aunt was a doctor in Plainfield. She told his parents that there were more opportunities for African-American families here, and the pair was able to find work immediately. Armour’s mother taught at Plainfield High School while his father taught at Malcolm X. Shabazz High in Newark. Armour was raised in Franklin Township, playing on the varsity tennis team at Franklin High, Class of ‘87.
The Armour family gatherings now reflect the diversity of the Garden State. He has one sister-in-law from Peru and another from Thailand while he has brother-in-laws from Iran and Turkey. Other family members are Mexican, American Indian and French. Armour’s wife is Caucasian and he is the father of two daughters, ages 8 and 5. Armour has enrolled his kids in tennis from an early age.
Armour’s mother was an English major in college, and she remains an art and culture enthusiast who loves going to New York for Broadway shows. By contrast his father was a math major who had a firm and disciplined approach with his children. Following more of his mother’s forte, Armour says he was never good at math but he excelled at English. Given New Orleans’ rich musical and jazz tradition and the fact Armour played trumpet in his youth, his mother wished that he pursue a career as a musician. As many other family members are involved in medicine or education, initially Armour’s mother didn’t accept police work as his career choice.
Armour’s father, a Marine for four years during the Korean War, was behind his son’s decision. But his mother, like any mom, feared for her son’s safety. Sticking with his decision, Armour joined the Plainsboro PD as a patrol officer in 1994 and has progressed ever since, convincing his mom to change her opinion.
“I went against her wishes was when I got hired as a police officer. But ever since then she has been my champion,” Armour says. At his swearing in ceremony on October 12, Armour’s mother as well as his entire family were there.
Two things in his experience on the Plainsboro force may help him in his new role as chief. In 2010 Armour attained the rank of lieutenant and was in charge of special services, overseeing the detective bureau and traffic bureau as well as serving as Internal Affairs Officer. Armour says the experience of conducting investigations on other Plainsboro officers taught him to separate his feelings and emotions from the actual investigation.
“You learn to determine what the facts are and weed out subsequent facts. It’s a tough balance between having camaraderie with the officers, but as a commanding officer you have a job to do. You have to conduct the investigation as an independent, making sure there’s a fair and just internal affairs investigation completed,” Armour said.
Armour first got involved in youth initiatives in 1997 when he was assigned as a juvenile detective. “As a patrol officer you see a lot of the bad side of people and you may not get to see the good that they do. As a juvenile officer that’s where I had to separate myself from that thinking. It makes you feel that you can make a difference with the kids,”
One added value was the time he spent speaking to children. On numerous occasions Armour has spoken in front of audiences of 500 kids or more plus school administrators and staff. He says the first time he did it his heart pounded a mile a minute, but now he could get in front of 1,000 people and it would not bother him. He said this also developed his ability to deal with people from all walks of life.
“I manage people. I don’t manage tasks. Every decision that you make out of this office, you’re affecting someone’s life,” he says.