1865 - 1871
After the Civil War ended in 1865, New Jersey was experiencing a rapid growth in industry and population due to the industrial revolution which was under way. The cities quickly swelled with newly arriving immigrants who were sought out to work in the new factories and mills. Expansion into rural areas was progressing rapidly due to railroad companies laying miles of track linking the population centers of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania and points further west. Jersey City was the hub of many railroad lines and became known as the ‘Gateway to the West’. As a consequence of this unprecedented expansion, there came a dramatic increase in crime.
Local law enforcement at this time consisted primarily of a few established police departments in the major cities. The suburbs were enforced by fee paid constables and part time village marshals, elected into office by local officials. The rural areas had virtually no police protection at all. The law enforcement community found itself overwhelmed by the rising crime rate. They lacked the manpower to handle, investigate and apprehend criminals effectively.
To protect themselves, citizens banded together and formed vigilante groups to bring criminals to justice. Protective associations and pursuing companies were also formed, some of which were granted limited law enforcement authority. However, none had official authority beyond the village and city boundaries.
It was at this time that the New Jersey State Legislature clearly saw the need to establish an agency with state-wide police authority, not to be constrained by jurisdictional boundaries, which could supplement the deficient police system that existed during this period. In 1871, they created the New Jersey Detective Agency (NJDA).
The NJDA was created as a ‘body politic’ and granted the authority to appoint up to 25 members who would receive a commission from the Governor, appointing each as a New Jersey State Detective. The commission conferred state-wide police authority to each member.
From its inception and into the early 1900's, New Jersey State Detectives honorably served the citizens of New Jersey by assisting various law enforcement agencies and private citizens in criminal matters. At the time, the NJDA was the only law enforcement agency with state-wide jurisdiction.
However, as years passed, things began to change. Many new municipal police departments were formed throughout the state and slowly expanded as the population increased. In 1921, the Division of State Police was formed and began providing police services in all parts of New Jersey. In addition, numerous other state and county agencies, such as the Attorney General's Office, County Prosecutors' Offices, Sheriff's Departments and County Police Departments, were formed and expanded as well.
During the 1960's, laws and statutes underwent major changes reflecting the call for better trained, educated and professional police officers. In 1961 the Legislature established the Police Training Commission (PTC) to set educational and training standards and requirements for all police organizations. Law enforcement was slowly evolving into a professional system that was much needed to fill the void that existed at the time.
Unfortunately, these positive changes had a detrimental effect on the role of the New Jersey State Detectives. Foremost was that New Jersey State Detectives were not recognized in the new laws created by the legislature, and therefore were ineligible to receive formal police training from established police academies or agencies. Also, with the establishment and expansion of numerous law enforcement agencies throughout the state, the need for the services of a New Jersey State Detective gradually diminished.
1960's to 2005
The Agency continued its operations throughout the latter part of the twentieth century. Due to their exclusion from the new laws and inability to receive proper training, New Jersey State Detectives rapidly fell behind the standards and requirements set by the PTC for all other law enforcement officers.
In the early 1990's, dramatic, positive changes began taking effect within the NJDA. Recognizing the need to enhance its image among other police professionals, the NJDA began an aggressive campaign to elect into membership only those candidates with police experience.
The NJDA amended its By-Laws by requiring candidates for membership to have a minimum of ten years of full time law enforcement experience along with a four year college degree. This amendment made membership very exclusive and more stringent than most any other law enforcement agency, and brought instant credibility to the Agency. The NJDA also created Rules & Regulations to guide the members and hold them accountable for their actions. Training sessions were also instituted.
In 1996, the New Jersey Senate and General Assembly paid tribute to the NJDA and honored the members for 125 years of exemplary, professional service and steadfast devotion to excellence in law enforcement.
Ironically, one year later, as the NJDA continued its reconstruction, the State Commission of Investigation (SCI) conducted an inquiry into the operations of the Agency. The SCI was critical of the members’ lack of accountability and lack of formal training and questioned the purpose of its existence in today’s society.
Despite a number of recommendations made by the SCI, no formal action has been taken against the Agency. During the years that followed , the NJDA has addressed all the issues of concern reported by the SCI and has continued to revamp and professionalize the Agency.
Today, the NJDA continues to move forward, and stands as an example of police professionalism. Its members now consist of retired officers coming from the ranks of the Federal government, New Jersey State Police, Prosecutors' Offices and County Police, along with Chiefs and other high ranking officers from local police departments. Commissioned as State Detectives, they serve as an extra set of eyes and ears to protect the citizens of New Jersey. The members look positively towards the future with the intense desire to continue their service to the public.