It was late summer of 1985. Young Bill was a student at West Chester University, and he wanted a job with a future. Born and raised in Cape May County, the Wildwood Crest native had never set foot in Stone Harbor. But he heard they were hiring police officers, and it seemed like a good profession.
As he recounted for the crowd June 10, “The first thing I saw was the beautiful homes on Paradise Drive. The second thing I saw was a police car parked by the bird sanctuary.
“The third thing I saw were the red lights on the police car, and that was my first introduction to the police department,” said William Toland, the man who, earlier this year, became the borough’s police chief.
He recounted his embarrassment as he told that officer he was headed to Borough Hall for an interview to become a police officer.
“He was kind enough to let me go on my way,” said the chief.
Then, like many tourists, Toland said he looked in vain for a parking place, circled the block several times, and finally spotted a vacant, metered parking space.
“I had no coins with meâ€¦there was a meter and an officer standing there. I asked if she minded it I ran into a store for change for the meter, She said ‘no,'” Toland continued.
“When I think back on that first visit to Stone Harbor, I always wondered what it would have been like if the officers I came in contact with had been less supportive,” he said.
With that crystalline day etched in his mind, the chief said he had “put that in perspective,” and thinks what it is like to be a vacationer or visitor.
Some people who visit may see a police officer as the borough’s sole representative, he said.
“When I became chief, one of the first things I did was talked to the sergeants. I told them the first message I want our officers to send, when they pull a car over, is that of a public relations contact,” said Toland.
In many cases, that treatment of lost or confused motorists sends a message money can’t buy about the town.
“I feel it’s so important that the first contact a visitor has with us is more of a community policing contact,” Toland said.
Because of that attitude, Toland said he had received calls from several people who actually thanked him and his officer. “They said I didn’t realize I was going that fast. That is very positive,” he said.
As he spoke to the Realty Owners Association’s general membership meeting, he said those same officers are ready when “strong law enforcement is necessary.”
By opening lines of communications with the public, he said, enforcement is sometimes an offshoot. He recalled one situation when a tip from a citizen led to a subsequent drug arrest.
“That’s how important we feel that communication is,” he said.
He urged every member in attendance to “keep feeding us information,” so that the borough can remain one of the premier resorts in the county.
What Toland verbalized should carry over to every person who comes into contact with the public, especially the vacationing public. That officer who looked at a college kid who said he was headed for a job interview as a police officer, could have easily written a ticket, and thought nothing more about it.
The meter enforcement officer could have said, “Do you know how many times I’ve heard that same excuse?”
They didn’t. Because of their concerted actions, a future police chief was introduced to the town where he would make his career.
As we encounter people, we never know who may be headed for future greatness, and who will be guided by our few words and actions.
It’s another reason why we ought to treat the next person as we would expect to be treated.
Chief Toland is living proof of that.
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