Police officer commended for cool handling of arrest
By Dan Edelen
“The unknown makes the job challenging,” says Tom Kenny ’94, a police officer in Toms River, N.J. Earlier this year, the unknown provided a potentially deadly challenge to his training and skills.
A self-proclaimed “small town kind of guy,” Kenny gravitated to helping others in his hometown of Spring Lake, N.J. He trained and served as an emergency medical technician while still in high school, working summers as a beach lifeguard. Kenny saw greater opportunities to serve by pursuing a government and law degree at Lafayette, which he credits with teaching him that “discipline and respect go a long way.”
He would find that lesson tested in May.
Already wanted by the FBI in connection with six robberies across the state, an armed, motorcycle-helmeted man entered Investors Savings Bank in Brick, N.J., and walked out with nearly $13,000 in cash. Baffled by the lack of description of the subject from previous holdups, investigators put out a vague alert for a Caucasian suspect driving a silver compact sedan.
Nearing the end of his shift, Kenny responded to the call. When he spotted a similar, though larger, vehicle, he ran the plates and found they’d expired. Knowing that he’d quickly lose the suspect on the nearby Garden State Parkway, Kenny, without backup, risked the stop.
Upon approaching the vehicle, Kenny discovered the driver to be Asian, another difference from the alert. Recalling that “people skills are the key element” when dealing with any situation, Kenny approached the suspect in a calm manner and spoke with him at length about the expired plates and broken windshield.
“You’re coming into stressful situations,” says Kenny. “You must identify with individuals quickly.”
By keeping the conversation civil, Kenny was able to defuse what might have become a dangerous shoot-out with an armed felon.
“The ability to de-escalate situations is the most important principle in law enforcement,” he notes.
When another officer arrived, Kenny re-approached from another angle and noticed a motorcycle helmet peeking out from under a shirt. He knew then that he had the notorious criminal.
The robber still calm, Kenny coaxed him from the car and cuffed him without incident. The FBI, upon arriving at the scene, commended Kenny for his cool handling of the bust.
Enforcing the rules while keeping the peace extends to Tom’s other job: college basketball referee. With his recent move to Division II, Kenny sets his sights even higher.
“I love refereeing,” he says. “My aspiration is to be a Division I official, to work the Patriot League, and one day make it to the Big East Conference.”
Kenny continues to volunteer with his hometown fire department, a role that garnered him a 1995 nomination for a Carnegie Hero Award for his dramatic late-night rescue of two men drowning at sea during a hurricane.
Combined with his police work and his sense of duty toward helping the people of New Jersey, Kenny finds deeper meaning in each job he performs.
“It’s about doing the right thing,” he says. “In every situation, you try to do what’s best for others.”