By Cheryl Conway
So he may have struck out at becoming a professional baseball star, but in Morris County he scored multiple home runs as sheriff for the past 24 years.
Morris County Sheriff Edward Rochford is finishing up his final weeks at the Morris County Sheriff’s Office in Morristown after serving his eighth three-year term in the elected position. After announcing his retirement plans earlier this year, Rochford will pass on the sheriff’s badge on Dec. 31, to sheriff-elect James Gannon of Boonton.
While he admits that he “loved every moment” of serving as sheriff, 72-year old Rochford is looking forward to doing other things he never had too much time to enjoy- like attending baseball games.
“Three officers I worked with in Morris Township passed away recently,” says Rochford of Morristown. “I want to do what I can” while he still can, he says.
His plan right off the bat is to hit the arena he loves the most.
“I would like to visit all the baseball stadiums,” says Rochford, who admits that he is a “die hard” Yankee fan. He plans to go to Yankee Spring Training in Tampa, Fl., in March, where the opening game is scheduled to be played, he adds. Then he plans to come up the East Coast and hit all of the baseball stadiums; then will visit the middle part of the East Coast such as Chicago; then travel to the West Coast and visit the stadiums there.
A baseball player in his youth, Rochford had been playing baseball for his high school team when he decided to try out for the New York Yankees in 1964.
“I went to a tryout with 100 people,” he recalls. “One of the greatest days I had was playing in Yankee Stadium.” He played catcher, third baseman, first baseman and right fielder and even played semi-professional for 12 years while attending college and working in his field.
When he did not make the professional team, Rochford decided to take a swing at his other dream, law enforcement.
“It was a dream I had when I was younger,” says Rochford. While he was a student at St. Virgil School in Morris Plains, Rochford served on the school’s safety patrol.
From there he attended the City University of New York, John Jay College of Criminal Justice where he received his degree in criminal justice.
He spent his first 27 years in law enforcement with the Morris Twp. Police Dept., when he was hired in November 1965 as a patrolman, then promoted deputy chief of police, a position he held until Dec. 31, 1992. Rochford was sworn in as Morris County sheriff on Jan. 1, 1993.
“I never thought I’d be in law enforcement that long but I loved every moment of it,” says Rochford, who has served in law enforcement for 51 years.
“I always enjoyed helping people,” says Rochford. “You have to love helping people. It’s service to the public. I’ll spend as much time with them [young people] of what they need to do to get in and what it’s like.”
Looking back at his years as sheriff, Rochford mentions several accomplishments.
His greatest achievement, he says, was becoming an accredited law enforcement agency in 1996.
“Very few agencies have been able to do that,” says Rochford. “It makes an agency better” by adhering to better standards and policies. “We’ve maintained that.”
Another accomplishment was his starting of the Project Lifesaver Program through the Morris County Sheriff’s Department. Through this program, elderly, people with Alzheimer’s and children with autism, can be rescued.
“We were first in the state of New Jersey to have it,” says Rochford. As president and executive director of the Sheriffs’ Association of NJ at that time, Rochford was able to influence 20 other sheriffs in the state to participate in the rescue project.
Free to all residents, participants wear a wristband, similar to a watch that contains a transmitter. Each transmitter has a code, which then acts as a tracking device to locate persons who have gone missing.
If a person wanders from home, “we can track them,” says Rochford. The Morris County Sheriff’s office has done it 40 times since starting the program and has found each person with no injury nor fatality, he adds.
The average time to get to the wanderer is 22 minutes, adds Rochford. “It’s a very good program.” Residents can call the sheriff’s department if interested in participating in the program. Currently, 130 clients are signed up in Morris County.
Rochford’s third accomplishment has been the services his department provides to municipal police departments throughout the county.
“We are a support agency for them,” says Rochford. “We do all the crime scenes, all bomb squads, all bomb inventory,” utilizing its large canine unit.
Another role of the sheriff’s department since Rochford has been on board is to provide security for people and judges who are at the Morris County Courthouse. With the sheriff’s department located right in the courthouse building, Rochford says, “we protect people in the courthouse.”
His greatest challenges as sheriff have been “taking a good agency and making it the best it can possibly be. I have great officers and employees. I’m very proud of them.”
As his last day approaches, Rochford has been meeting with Gannon regularly, “getting him ready,” to take over as sheriff. “I’m working with him right now; working hand in hand, whatever Jimmy wants Jimmy will get.”
While he looks forward to what lies ahead as he retires, Rochford says he has enjoyed working as a leader in law enforcement.
“Hiring officers and watching them develop into professional law officers and giving them the tools they need to get the job done,” is one area he has enjoyed the most, he says.
“My goal was never to reach 51 years; my goal was to develop a great agency,” says Rochford. “I enjoy doing what I’m doing. I enjoy the employees and officers I work with, that’s extremely important. You want to go to work and know you are being appreciated. I never wanted an agency where they said ‘I didn’t want to go to work.’ I support these officers tremendously.”
Rochford says, “I’m looking forward to turning the agency over to Jim.” His hopes for the next sheriff and department are “to keep services to the municipalities and treat officers the way I would want to be treated, to maintain the relationships and services to the municipal police.”
As a life-long resident of Morris County, Rochford plans to stick around when he is not at baseball games.
“I think Morris County is a great place to live and work,” says Rochford. There are lots of parks, it’s a safe county, great law enforcement on the municipal level, Morristown and Morris Twp. have great schools, he mentions.
“I love it here; I’m staying here for the duration,” he concludes.