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Monday, July 22, 2024

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For 73-year-old, Being a Class I Cop Is ‘Fun Every Day’

Christopher South
North Wildwood Class I police officer Robert Blom, 73, left, and his supervisor, Lt. Bryan Skill, in front of the fallen officers memorial at North Wildwood City Hall.

By Christopher South

NORTH WILDWOOD – As a student at Adelphi University, Robert Blom developed an interest in police work that was never fulfilled until age 50, when he attended the police academy and became a Special Law Enforcement Officer-Class I.

Twenty-three years later, at the age of 73, Blom is still performing his duties, helping the Police Department with traffic and parking enforcement – and being the go-to guy when it comes to setting up for major festivals.

Blom takes his job seriously enough that he was unanimously selected for the Thomas Barone Award last year for being the department’s outstanding seasonal officer. Lt. Bryan Skill, his supervisor, said the award is named for the only seasonal officer ever killed in the line of duty, and that the selection was based on the votes of all the sergeants in the department.

Asked how he feels about his work, Blom said, “It’s fun every day.”

Blom was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Haddonfield and Cherry Hill, graduating from Cherry Hill-West High School in 1968. He then attended Adelphi University, and one day saw a man get off the train carrying a rifle case.

His sense that something was wrong led him to follow the man, who entered an Adelphi dorm. He spoke to a friend about this who urged him to report the matter. Police eventually arrested the man, and one of them told Blom, “You should be a cop.”

At the time, however, he was needed to help his father and cousin, who owned a lumber yard and who built houses in the Bellmawr-Williamstown area. Blom was also a hunter, and because he had an interest in guns he went to a gun show, where he picked up an antique gun. He soon developed such an appreciation for older guns that he started an antique gun business.

In 1974 he married a woman who was also interested in antiquing and who loved gun shows and the travel required. He also expanded his interest in collecting police badges.

Along the way he met Ron Donoho, who lived in Las Vegas, the home of the largest antique gun show in the country. Donoho also was in the antique gun business, and the two became friends. Blom ended up staying at Donoho’s home for 18 years.

Blom said Donoho was also in a fast-draw club that attracted celebrities including Sammy Davis Jr., Marilyn Monroe and Mel Torme, to name a few. “I kept bumping into Tom Selleck, who was a collector,” he said. “I met all these neat people.”

After settling in North Wildwood, his wife would regularly attend Crime Watch Meetings, now called Community Meetings. At one of them Blom met Sgt. Robert Matteucci, who eventually became police chief.

Matteucci told Blom he needed parking enforcement officers, and Blom said that, since he wasn’t tied to a nine-to-five job, he could do it. He was hired for two to three days a week, and it was suggested he go to the Class I academy, which is two weeks long. With the certification he could write citations for state violations.

“I came home and said, ‘Honey, I’m going to the police academy,’” Blom said.

He found himself always attending court, and one day the judge asked, “Would you be my court officer?”

Since court is only one day per week he did not have to give up his duties on the streets, and he found the work enjoyable. He would run the metal detector and then go into the courtroom.

He subsequently decided to attend the Class II academy, which is eight weeks long, but stopped after three weeks.

Blom said the Police Department used to have eight or nine Class I officers but now has six, including himself, who is considered the senior seasonal officer.

Skill, a North Wildwood native, supervises the six Class I officers. He said they are very important to the department because they enforce local ordinances and prevent accidents, which doesn’t require full-time officers.

Blom said they help out when parking can be a problem. “People looking for a parking space get frustrated, and they start parking illegally,” he said.

Class I officers get around on bicycles, helping ensure compliance with parking regulations and looking for safety issues created by illegal parking. Blom said they will advise drivers who they see attempting to park illegally and warn them before they get a ticket.

In that regard, he said, the Class I officers are on the lookout for people misusing placards for the disabled. He said he recalls going down JFK Boulevard and finding nearly 70% of the vehicles had such placards hanging in the front window.

“It just defies odds that 70% of the people parking there would be handicapped,” Blom said. Class I officers will be checking all placards, he said.

In terms of paying for parking, he said, the placard does not exempt someone from paying unless there is a reserved spot for the disabled.

Meters, he said, go on May 15 and are active until Sept. 30 each year. Since the Class I officers are all on bikes, it makes it easier to cover the metered areas.

Blom himself works from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. During the first part of his shift, he normally rides along the seawall at the north end of the city. He is there mainly to enforce municipal ordinances and promote safety.

During the festival season, he plays an important role for the department.

“He is so relied upon for activities and events,” Skill said. “Setting up for the Irish Festival or the Barbecue and Blues Festival, putting up all the signs and barrels, he is the only one who knows where everything goes. We don’t even realize how big a job it is.”

Blom said he posts about 300 signs for the Irish Festival, for example.

When the meters are turned off, he spends his time in court or filling in for crossing guards at Margaret Mace Elementary School or Wildwood Catholic Academy. His riding in a marked police car gives an added sense of security to the students and their parents, he said.

Contact the reporter, Christopher South, at csouth@cmcherald.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.

Reporter

Christopher South is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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