At its April 16t meeting, the Highland Park mayor and council formally selected and then swore in new leaders of the Highland Park Police Department.
The appointments follow the retirement in March of Highland Park Police Chief, Stephen Rizco, who served 33 years on the force and 11 as police chief.
The newly appointed acting chief of police is Lt. Rick Abrams. He has served on the Highland Park Police Department since June 2003, when he was assigned to the patrol division. He was promoted to the rank of patrol sergeant in August 2012. In August of 2017 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant where he oversaw training, budgeting, scheduling, and assisted with the supervision of the patrol division and internal affairs. Lt. Abrams graduated first in his class from the Monmouth Police Academy in 2003.
The newly appointed acting police captain is Sgt. Joe Curbelo. He has served in the Highland Park Police Department since May 2006, after having graduated from the Trenton Police Academy in August 2003 and serving in the NJ State Department of Youth and Family Services and the Greystone Psychiatric Police Station. Joe was initially assigned to the Patrol Division in Highland Park and most recently he served as the youth officer. He is a certified traffic crash reconstruction and school resource officer. He was promoted to sergeant in August of 2017. He has overseen the implementation of Bodyworn Cameras; handled juvenile, off duty work, and serious and fatal motor vehicle crashes; coordinated officers’ field training; and managed evidence, dispatchers and the terminal agency computers.
On the advice of NJ State Chiefs of Police organization, Highland Park also appointed a police leadership mentor to help Acting Chief Abrams and Acting Captain Curbelo adjust to their roles. Serving in this mentoring role is Retired Police Chief Quovella M. Spruill. Chief Spruill recently retired from the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office in Newark, New Jersey as the first female chief of dectectives. She served in the Prosecutor’s Office for 20 years in progressively more responsible roles. She is a graduate of New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and has a master’s degree from Seton Hall University. She was one of the youngest managers in the City of Newark, during that period she recognized as one of Ebony magazines individuals “30 Future Leaders Under 30”.
Chief Spruill served over 30 years in government and law enforcement. During her tenure in the Prosecutor’s Office, she commanded and served in multiple units, including Internal Affairs, Corruption, Bias Crimes, Homicide Unit, Training and many other short- and long-term assignments. She is an adjunct professor at Rutgers University and DeVry University, instructing courses in Criminal Justice and Human Resources.
Chief Spruill is a board member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) and is active in their work to train police officers in de-escalation, diversity inclusion, and community policing.
Highland Park Mayor Gayle Brill Miller stated: “I’m delighted to welcome Chief Abrams (Rick) and Captain Curbelo (Joe) to their new roles as heads of the Highland Park Police Department. Both candidates endured and excelled in a grueling, multi-month interview process designed by the NJ State Chiefs Organization.” The process included an oral exam, substantive essay questions, and an interview with the Council’s Public Safety Committee, a process that included questions provided by residents of Highland Park at an open public meeting to discuss the process.
“At a public forum the night after they were sworn in, Chief Rick and Captain Joe shared their vision for our police department, and their desire to work closely with any residents who wish to help improve communications, transparency, and equitable policing in Highland Park. We are on the dawn of a new direction in policing in Highland Park,” said the mayor.
She added her excitement over the fact that that “retired Chief Quovella Spruill, former Chief of Essex County Detectives, will working with us as a mentor to help Chief Rick and Captain Joe in their efforts to move our police department forward. Chief Spruill has 20 years of experience as a police officer, with three of those years as chief. As chief, she supervised an investigative staff of 150 detectives, superior officers, and support staff in the largest and busiest prosecutor’s office in the State of New Jersey. She is an outstanding law enforcement professional with a great deal of experience to share with our new leaders.”