After 30 Years, Police Chief Lawrence Roberts Is Calling It A Career

Township Police Chief Lawrence Roberts, left, receives commendation from Mayor Phil Kramer in 2016. Roberts announced that he will retire in February 2018.

Township Chief of Police Lawrence Roberts will retire in February, 2018, ending a 30-year career with the FTPD.

Roberts, who has been chief since 2011, said that he has begin transferring some of his duties to Deputy Chief Richard Grammar, his probable successor.

“We have in Franklin a succession plan, we plan for the future,” he said.

“I think it’s time,” Roberts said of his pending retirement. “I’ve given 30 years to the town.”

Roberts, 52, has worked just about his entire law enforcement career in the township. He left in early 1991 to take a job with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, but returned after about 18 months.

“I liked Franklin better, so I came back and they gave me my job right back,” he said. “I went to work for the federal government, didn’t like it and I knew in my heart that local police work was what I wanted to do.”

“You really get to understand people, and you actually get to help them with their problems,” Roberts said of why he preferred community policing. “Their problem may not be related to crime, it may just be something that’s bothering them, but they want to deal with it. If you give people the time and the effort, it goes a long way and they will support you.”

A West Windsor native, Roberts has lived in Franklin for the last 21 years.

“I’ll continue to live in town,” he said. “I love it here.”

Roberts was near the end of his pursuit of a dual major in criminal justice and communications from Trenton State College – now The College of New Jersey – when he interviewed for a job with the township police force.

“I was taking a lot of tests, and I thought that Franklin was a big department, it was a big town,” he said. “When I went for the interview, it was a tough interview, but they were very friendly, very professional with us. I was just impressed with the department.”

Roberts said he was hired by John Blazakis, who would also become a township police chief. Hired at the same time, and a classmate at the Somerset County Police Academy, was Grammar, Roberts said.

After returning to Franklin from the DEA, Roberts decided to take the sergeant’s test, which he passed.

“Then I liked being a sergeant, and I wanted to go higher, so I took the lieutenant’s test, and I was lucky enough to get it,” he said. “When they put me in the investigative division, they sent me to the FBI National Academy, and when I came back from that, I knew that if I was lucky enough, that I would like to be the chief of police. And it all worked out.”

The FBI Academy, Roberts said, “was the best school I went to in my whole career.”

During his career, Roberts has served as road supervisor, supervisor of neighborhood policing, worked in the investigative and operations divisions, and on the street crime unit.

“When I was in the street crime unit, my direct supervisor was Bob Vornlocker,” the current Township Manager, Roberts said. “Then I was his supervisor.”

In 2006, Roberts was named Deputy Police Chief under former chief Craig Novick.

“I think the thing that stands out to me the most in my career is having the privilege of working with the community of Franklin Township,” he said. “You learn a lot about people. In my time in the street crime unit, I met a lot of people in all walks of like. There are a lot of good people out there, a lot of people out there who try to do the right thing. It makes you a better person and teaches you a lot.”

Roberts said that he considers his biggest accomplishment leading the FTPD as “bringing professionalism to the police department and getting the police department accredited. And most of all, community relations and serving the needs of the public.”

“Being chief is definitely a challenge,” he said. “There’s a lot of decisions you have to make and a lot of outside people you have to deal with, whether it’s the manager, the politicians, the public, and then you have the inside stuff you have to deal with.”

“It’s like running a business, you have to make sure you have a well-oiled machine,” he said.

The one piece of advice Roberts said he would give his successor is that you never stop being the police chief.

“Being the chief is 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “There’s no vacation, even when you’re on vacation.”

Mayor Phil Kramer praised Roberts for what he said was the example he set for the department.

“Chief Roberts took over a police force with low morale during challenging times,” Kramer wrote in an email. “Through hard work, toughness and fairness he developed a force that I believe is second to none in the state. He led by example in appearance, integrity and work ethic. ”

“Guided by two goals; to do what was best for the town and to keep his people safe, he will leave a well-disciplined, award winning, diverse force respected by the public and which is the envy of all who know it,” Kramer wrote. “It has truly been an honor to serve with him.”

Roberts and the Rev. DeForest “Buster” Soaries have developed a working relationship that has lasted most of Roberts’ career. Soaries said Roberts has “been proactive, he’s been creative and he’s been responsive.”

“I think the key to police community relations, is relations,” he said. “When you’re in a community that’s as diverse as ours, that’s all you can ask for. You have to try to stay ahead of the problems, you have to think outside of the box, and you have to respond even when people suggestions might make you uncomfortable.”

“That’s what he’s done, that’s the legacy he leaves and I think he’s impacted the town that way such that the culture that reflects his leadership,” Soaries said.

Vornlocker said that Roberts is someone “is not going to be able to be repeated.”

“He’s developed a tremendous amount of relationships with the community leaders and he has a knack for being able to identify who he should develop relationships with,” he said. “He’s a personable guy, so he develops those relationships, and he keeps them because he follows through on what he says he’s going to do, and he’s always done that, and I think that’s what makes him a good chief.”

“He just gave every bit of his life to this job, and it shows,” Vornlocker said.

Vornlocker said that being Roberts’ supervisor was sometimes “a challenge.”

“He’s full of a lot of energy,” Vornlocker said. “When we were doing the neighborhood police team and working in the 4th Ward, sometimes it was hard to hold him back, because he wanted to go, go, go. That’s what he demanded of the people who worked for him, too. That’s why he became as a superior officer.”

“He’ll be missed,” Vornlocker said.

Roberts said that initially, he plans to travel and decide what will be next.

“I have no plans now,” he said. “I’m going to get some rest and relaxation, that’s the biggest thing. Then I’ll see what I’ll do in the future.”

“I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to the men and women of this department and to the citizens of this town,” Roberts said. “It’s been an honor to serve them.”


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