Bocce & Brew returns for a second year

| 11 Oct 2017 | 12:42

By Joseph Picard
— The game of bocce has been around for a few thousand years, originating, they say, in the Roman Empire. Beer has an even earlier origin, being the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man, predating the written word.
The Sussex County Police Chiefs Association is not quite that old, although it has been around since 1972. Last Thursday, Oct. 5, the game, the beverage and the chiefs, as well as scores of supporters and mounds of delicious food, all got together at the Mohawk House in Sparta for the second annual Bocce & Brew fundraiser for the association.
Present for the festivities was Eskil “Skip” Danielson, former chief of the Byram Township Police Department, who was one of the two founding members of the association 45 years ago.
“We needed a way of communicating our issues back and forth in the county,” Danielson said. “We do a lot more mutual aid up here in Sussex County. We needed each other.”
Danielson said he and then-Sparta Police Chief P. George Geffken moved forward with the idea of a chiefs’ association and enlisted 10 other chiefs to kick it off.
“I believe I’m the only original member still alive,” he said.
Skip’s son Eric Danielson, chief of the Andover Township Police Department, is the current association president and one of the main organizers of the event.
“The money we raise goes for training for law enforcement officers throughout the county,” he said.
To conduct the training courses, the association hires local experts, as well as instructors through the New Jersey State Police, the federal government and elsewhere. Officers from the various county departments receive training in casualty care, emergency incident response (as in terrorist or active shooter cases), interview and interrogation, accident reconstruction and other significant law enforcement activities.
“It’s about working together effectively and community interaction,” Eric Danielson said.
Chief Michael Richards of the Newton Police Department echoed that sentiment.
“Criminals don’t restrict their actions to one town,” Richards said. “When law enforcement cooperates across communities, when we work together with each other and with the community, we are more effective, to everyone’s benefit.”.
The interaction at the event among chiefs, officers, friends and family members was jovial and warm-hearted. According to organizers, approximately 125 people attended. And, although it would be difficult to find a bocce superstar among the spirited teams, the game itself plays a significant role, as Stanhope Police Chief Steven Pittigher explained.
“The fundraiser used to be a golf outing,” he said. “So, all day only four people hang out together. Here, with bocce, you can talk with all these people. You can talk with other officers and chiefs, learn you have the same kind of crimes, the same kind of problems. You also talk with members of the public. The public gets to know the police. They get to find out that we’re people too.”
Ledgewood attorney Anthony Arbore, retired Roxbury Police Chief James Simonetti, Andover Police Detective Rod Mosner and East Hanover Police Chief James Blesson made up the winning bocce team. In addition to a trophy, each player received a watch donated by J. Thomas Jewelers of Sparta.
Leonard Giraldo of J. Thomas Jewelers, Donald Somma of First Hope Bank, Eric Neilsen of Franklin Sussex Auto Mall, Tom Pepe, the Wiebel Family and Mohawk House owners Steve and Rachel Scro were singled out by organizers for special thanks.
Police chiefs came from other counties as well. Mount Arlington Chief Keith Licata is the president of the Morris County Police Chiefs Association.
“Whatever part of the state you are from, police departments have similar issues, similar problems,” he said. “Networking among other chiefs and officers, getting to know one another. This makes it so much easier when you need information or have to tackle something together.”
Lt. John Widovic, New Jersey State Police Sussex County Commander, agreed, saying “knowing the other chiefs makes operations run smoother.”
The State Police Sussex Command covers the approximately 330 square miles of the county that do not have a municipal police department.
Two other organizers of the event, Sparta Chief Neil Spidaletto and Byram Chief Pete Zabita spoke for many of the attendees when they praised the help and generosity of the Scros.
“This is the second year of Bocce & Brew at the Mohawk House and Steve and Rachel deserve our thanks and gratitude for hosting such a great event,” Spidaletto said.
“Steve Scro has presented us with an opportunity that we would not have gotten anywhere else,” Zabita said. “And it’s such a great cause, getting excellent training for officers across departments throughout the county.”
Steve Scro said it has been his dream to make the Mohawk House “a community house.”
“The law enforcement community is dear to my heart,” he said. “And training for law enforcement officers is so very important. Also, the chiefs are usually consumed with their work. Something like this gives them the chance to bond and to enjoy camaraderie. I feel good seeing that. I am happy to give back to this community.”