Dr. Jim Ford’s, “The Other Side of the Line”
By George Beck, Ph.D.
Forty-two years ago, a young, energetic Jim Ford entered the Chatham Township Police Department seeking a job as a patrolman. It was a snowy day in March with hail and sleet so fierce it kept many of the townspeople indoors. Inside the headquarters were six other sets of glaring eyes, looking each other up and down, as they waited for the interview to compete for one position. “We all wanted the same thing,” Ford said. “We were cordial, and offered each other encouragement,” Ford tells his story with a bright smile and calm disposition that makes him easily relatable.
The young Ford had made a lasting impression on the hiring committee. The following day, he received the call he had been hoping for. It was from the police captain, who informed him that he was selected and would begin the police academy upon successfully passing the psychological and medical evaluations. The year was 1976 and the times were starkly different from the sentiments law enforcement has grown accustomed to today. It was the lull between the race riots of the ‘60s in the major cities and before the crack cocaine epidemic that claimed many lives during the ‘80s. For Chatham Township —a roughly 9.2-square mile community of about 10,500 residents in Morris County, New Jersey—and many other similar suburban neighborhoods it was an era of community policing—a period when officers drove around with their windows down. Ford recalls one of his first duties was to pick up an elderly resident and take him to the supermarket. “He told me to come back in an hour,” Ford said. “I did return and drove him back to his home and helped him carry the groceries into his house. I never thought being a police officer would have me doing things like this.”
Ford quickly understood that a community is secure when strong partnerships are made between the police and the residents. The community needed to trust their officers and the officers needed to rely on them to help solve crimes and perform their duties. A simple act that on the surface may seem inglorious proved to be a catalyst for positive police-community relations. He has kept this simple philosophy of selfless service to others throughout his life. He carried it into his current work as professor and graduate director of Justice Administration and Public Service studies at the College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown, NJ, where he is a highly favored faculty member in the criminal justice department.
Like any law enforcement career, there were always incidents that officers dealt with that stayed with them. Whether in the big cities or the small suburban communities, one thing was for sure, the horrors of humanity unfolded everywhere, and the police were there to stabilize the situation, albeit the frequency for such calls is where the difference lies. All these years later, Ford recalls scenes he investigated with sharp recollection, like the time he stood before a dead early teen hanging from a door in his bedroom. The boy had no chance of revival, as death had already begun its work, but Ford could not help but recall how he at the time had young children and somehow this boy had felt so lonely that suicide was the answer to whatever he had been dealing with. “There are days I’ll never forget,” Ford said. “This was one of them.”
Ford had seen plenty of unspeakable incidents during his 26-year career. But there were also good days like when he rescued victims from a house fire, and how much pride he felt when days later they came to the police department to thank him. Fortunately, Ford wrote down these experiences in his newly released book “The Other Side of the Line.” Ford tells how he came up with the title as a reminder to himself and his fellow brothers in blue that one day they will return to the civilian world and must seek success in retirement. One way to accomplish this is through education, integrity, and a commitment to excel beyond all preconceived limitations.
Having already had a master’s degree by the time he reached retirement eligibility, he was invited to lecture at the College of Saint Elizabeth. “I remember coming home that night and telling my wife this is what I wanted to do,” Ford recalled. So, he pulled the plug and dove in headfirst, simultaneously enrolling in a Ph.D. program while teaching courses at the college. “It was an excellent decision,” Ford said. “And all these years later I am still here enjoying what I do.”
Ford retired as a lieutenant and was responsible for mentoring officers while handling administrative duties. As up and down and unpredictable as police work was, there was a silver lining. “The job prepared me for what I am doing now at the college,” Ford said. “I use my administrative skills and mentoring ability every day. I enjoy keeping a full schedule of mentoring students and helping potential students get the credits they deserve when enrolling in the college.” Ford’s professional life is no different from his personal life, “My wife calls me ‘The Fixer,’” he said. “I am the one the family comes to for problem-solving.”
Ford is proud to come from a strong lineage of public servants. His late grandfather, Dennis, was a police officer in Summit, his late father, James Sr., was a Union County corrections officer, and his sons are both on the job. Brian is a detective sergeant in Florham Park and Timothy, a sergeant in Union.
Ford’s new book is enjoying rave reviews and interests among law enforcement officers and beyond. He’s been busy attending book signings and readings and discussing the material with enthusiasts. The book is trending heavily in the Northeast, and Ford hopes to continue this momentum. “It’s been a rewarding experience,” Ford said. “One that has motivated me to begin a sequel.”
To purchase a copy of this highly recommended read at a discounted price, visit www.vermontbookshop.com/book/97816 05714103. The book is also available at Amazon and other booksellers.
George Beck is a police detective, award-winning journalist, and managing editor of Blue Magazine. He holds a Ph.D. in History & Culture from Drew University. He is the author of The Killer Among Us and several other books. His nonfiction and short stories have been featured in magazines and anthologies nationally and internationally