Maya Angelou once wrote, "One paints the beginning of a certain end. The other, the end of a sure beginning." Newton Chief of Police Michael Richards will be doing both in the coming months, as he retires from his 30-year career in law enforcement and takes on a new title- that of manager at the New Jersey State Fair/Sussex County Farm and Horse Show.
“I’ve driven to work at 39 Trinity Street for my entire adult life,” Richards said on Monday, “I’ve spent more than half my life here. It’s going to be quite a change.”
Richards began his career as a dispatcher, filling roles from special officer and detective, up the ranks to chief. It’s a role he takes seriously, and one which retiring from will be bittersweet.
“One thing I’ll have to learn is how to relax and not be hypervigilant all the time,” he said. “No more sneaking to look at my phone during a movie, or worrying about phone calls in the middle of the night. That’s going to take me some time. This has been more than a job. It’s hard not to let it get tied to your identity.”
The move to the Fairgrounds will put Richards in a new role, but not in a new environment. He says he grew up on the site, where the Richards Building is named for his grandparents.
“It’s important to me,” he said. “When I heard the job was open, I thought long and hard about going for it. I see guys my age retiring and going to do new things, and I didn’t want to miss my chance to be part of something that means a lot to my family.”
One of the chief’s concerns when interviewing for the fairgrounds job was how active the manager role would allow him to be in the community, which is something that Richards holds dear, not only in his position as chief of police. He also sits on the board of directors for Ginnie’s House, helped co-found the C.L.E.A.R. program, and has served as a fair director for the last few years.
“If I couldn’t remain active in community outreach, I wouldn’t have considered taking the job,” he said.
Richards said he will remain active with C.L.E.A.R., but will have to give up his position as President of the Sussex County Association of Chiefs of Police. Sparta Chief Neil Spidaletto will take his place.
“The other chiefs are strong supporters of C.L.E.A.R., so even though I’ll still be around, I know those guys will help keep it going,” he said.
Richards said the same of his department. Although he does not know who his replacement will be, he knows his officers are more than capable.
“I’ve seen Newton evolve, I’ve seen guys come and go, I’ve made lifelong friends who were my best man and are godfathers to my children,” he said, “and if I’ve done my job right, I’m leaving behind guys that I know can step up.”
Richards said he’s also looking forward to getting started at the Fairgrounds and working with a lot of dedicated people. The full-time staff there is smaller than his 39-member personnel roster at the police department, but will swell into the hundreds as the fair approaches.
“I’ll definitely have a lot of people to meet, and a lot to learn,” he said.
For now, Richards will spend a few more weeks at the police department; he’s planning on leaving mid-December and beginning at the Fairgrounds in January. He’s even taken up a new hobby- beekeeping, which also is a family tradition.
“My grandfather kept bees, and that was always one of my favorite parts of the fair growing up- the big hive demonstrations,” he said, “So this is something I can do with my son, and we’re having a lot of fun with it.”