Beneath the ceremonial rigmarole and tropes about police safety, service, and sacrifice are systemic issues that transect the role of police and citizen. Robert Geisler, Bayonne’s new police chief, is well aware of these issues after 24 years of working at the Bayonne Police Department.
Geisler, 46, talks openly about issues facing the Bayonne community. After all, he’s witnessed the region’s cultural and economic changes since becoming a police officer in 1995.
“Society’s views in the past 20 some odd years have changed, and we’re adapting to that and changing what we do to meet the needs of the community,” Geisler said.
Like Chief Drew Sisk and Chief Drew Niekrasz who preceded him, Geisler calls the Bayonne Police Department a “service-oriented organization.”
“We’re lucky enough that we are in an urban area but still small enough to provide services that other larger cities can’t,” said Geisler. “You call the police in Bayonne, they’re coming. It’s not like a major city where you’re sitting around waiting.”
Being “service-oriented” doesn’t merely mean response times. Geisler said the job of police officers is also to sympathize, as best they can, with those who call the police, and those who are having the police called on them. Most police do not take joy in arresting people or causing others pain. They want to know that they are helping solve a problem.
“I enjoyed bringing closure to crime victims,” Geisler said. “You feel violated when your house is broken into or when you’re assaulted. You have to be able to put yourself in other people’s shoes to feel what they’re feeling to help them as much as you can.”
Cops and the community
Geisler is attuned to the community’s attitudes toward the criminal justice system and public health issues. Bayonne, like the rest of the country, is facing an epidemic of opioid addiction, growing anxieties about mass shootings, and a heightened awareness of how persisting inequalities can cause crime.
“Society’s views in the past 20 some odd years have changed, such as with bail reform. Back in the 90s, everyone was getting arrested and going to jail for long periods of time, so now not as many people are going to jail,” Geisler said. “Even the way we conduct investigations here is changing. Back in the 90s and early 2000s, we would issue a warrant for someone’s arrest. Now, we’re not issuing the warrant, we’re issuing a summons. In the long run it benefits society because a lot of times people with criminal records can’t get jobs.”
Geisler is a proponent of police transparency and accountability. He will oversee the department adopting the use of body cameras. “Because of body-worn cameras, dash-cam cameras, video of the streets, what we do is a lot more transparent,” he said. “Thirty years ago, people didn’t have the insight to what we do.”
Standing on ceremony
The July 31 promotion ceremony that honored both Geisler and Walter Rogers, who was promoted from Captain to Deputy Chief, was full of the usual pomp and circumstance. The Bayonne Police Pipe and Drums corps performed in traditional Irish kilts, and the new chief and deputy chief were honored by Mayor James Davis, Former Chief Drew Sisk, Public Safety Director Bob Kubert, and the Bayonne City Council.
“This is something that I’ve worked for my entire career,” Geisler said. “As you rise up the ranks, you’re always evolving, you’re always changing. You’re getting further away from doing the police work and into the administrative side.” Geisler is a former investigative detective, juvenile aid bureau commander, detective bureau commander, and, administrative division commander. “I’m excited for the future,” he said. “We have a young department with the city changing the way it is. With the changing culture in the department, I think we’re moving in the right direction.”
Former Police Chief Drew Sisk passed the torch by honoring the new chief and deputy chief. Aside from calling Geisler an “excellent bag piper,” and Rogers a “great drummer,” he said that Geisler has a “level-headedness and intelligence that serves him well in his career.”
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at email@example.com.