Vincent Sabo chooses words like proud and humbling to describe being appointed chief of the New Brunswick Police Department. So focused is he on his new role of leading a department of more than 140 members, he has barely allowed himself to glimpse how far he’s come over 32 years in law enforcement.
Yet, if you could somehow go back and tell the younger Sabo - a kid taking classes at Middlesex County College during the Big Hair Eighties - that he would someday head a department sworn to serve and protect 55,000 residents, he would laugh.
“That kid would have been surprised if you told him he had enough gas money for the weekend,” Sabo said.
Even so, Sabo, one of TAPinto New Brunswick’s People to Watch for 2024, heard the calling to be a cop at a young age.
An internship with the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Department straight out of high school made a big impression on Sabo, who was appointed chief on Jan. 1 after the retirement of Director Anthony Caputo.
Sabo worked in the ID bureau, but there was something about an undercover unit that combed the streets for the baddest of the bad guys. Although neither Pete DeLuise nor Johnny Depp were among the squad’s ranks, their swagger and tenacity reminded Sabo of a hip crime drama that was popular on Fox at the time.
“It appeared to me to be like a ‘21 Jump Street’ unit,” Sabo said. “That’s what it looked like. They’d come in with jeans and different jackets and just dressed down. I thought it was the coolest thing. It was called the Fugitive Squad. That really piqued my interest and put me on the path to becoming a cop.”
It’s been 30 years of honing his policing and leadership skills while serving in the NBPD’s patrol division, anti-crime unit, neighborhood police team, and juvenile aid bureau. Most recently, he served as the deputy chief. Two of the biggest milestone moments of his career came when he was appointed leader of the crisis response unit in 2003 and then chosen as commander of police operations in 2008.
Sabo said he’s a verbal leader, who takes a hands-on approach and makes using time efficiently a priority.
“My biggest thing as a supervisor is if your men and women really believe you care, and you care about the job and getting it done, and that you really care about them being there and working, you’ll get a lot more work out of them,” he said. “That’s something I learned early as a sergeant. The people that worked for me knew that I was a worker. I expected them to work. I wanted to get things done and I needed them as part of my team and it made them feel wanted and needed to be at work.”
He’s had many mentors in his career, from Sgt. Kenneth Milroy to Capt. Les Levine to Director Caputo. In fact, he gleaned many lessons from his predecessor, a man who served the city and the police department for more than 30 years.
Sabo said Caputo's “just be nice” philosophy encouraged officers to embrace a more humane approach and consider the impact of small acts of kindness in interactions with others. It sparked a shift in mindset in the department.
Sabo also learned from Caputo the power of making interpersonal connections with people from all walks of life, and respecting each one of them because they are all important in their own way. He could then call on these people when the department needed help.
“If I went to him because I needed to contact someone in Newark because we have this case, he knew the mayor of Newark,” Sabo said. “He knew the police chief of Newark and had his number in his phone. It didn’t even need to be Newark. It could have been a place like South Orange, that we don’t deal much with, and there’s a hospital there. He’d say, ‘Oh, no problem. I happen to know the CEO of the hospital. I can make a call. I can get that done.’ ”
Sabo, 52, a proud father of a son and a daughter – both college graduates – is poised for a big 2024.
The department will be deploying a new mobile police precinct vehicle throughout the city over the next few months. The department also plans to expand the department’s foot and bicycle patrol presence in the community.
“For the businesses, they love it,” Sabo said. “The homeowners, they love it. You get a lot more personal touch. They can just pop out their doors, just like we do on French Street. They’ll go in. They’ll talk to the business owners. They’ll become a familiar face. They’ll speak to them about the issues they’re having or the issues they’re not having or the things that could be helpful for them as well as police for the other residents of the area.”
Story Credit: Chuck O'Donnell
Photo Credit: TAPinto New Brunswick
Previously in TAPinto New Brunswick's People to Watch in 2024 Series:
Artist Martryce Roach
Restaurant owner Gus Sleiman
Rutgers' Dean of Mason Gross School of the Arts Jason Geary
Mona Patel, Director of Urban Revival Project
Tania Lopez, Branch Manager of OceanFirst Bank
Dr. Steven Libbutti, Director at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
Carolina Moratti, Community Organizer
Jessie Mersinger, Music Director at New Brunswick High School