Niles Malvasia is a retired Detective Sergeant formerly with the Hackensack Police Department. Hackensack is the county seat of Bergen, which is located in northern New Jersey, just 15 minutes from Manhattan. Sergeant Malvasia retired after an eventful and fulfilling 20-year career. Sergeant Malvasia has been acknowledged by numerous law enforcement agencies at both local and federal levels for his many accomplishments while on duty. He has also been featured on several different law-enforcement television programs for his involvement in a variety of high-profile cases. Sergeant Malvasia most recently appeared on National Geographic’s Drug Inc. as he worked a case with New Jersey DEA Agents.
Niles Malvasia’s career has featured a number of significant arrests, high-profile cases, and exciting moments. While he values the good he was able to do with the Hackensack Police Department and is thankful for the friendships that he made there, Sergeant Malvasia knows it is for the best that he was able to move on and pursue other professional ventures.
When did you know that you wanted to be a police officer?
It really wasn’t until I was 18 years old that I realized I wanted to do work in law enforcement. I was like every other teenager growing up: I played sports and thought t I’d grow up to sign with the Yankees. I ended up wearing a different uniform, or as we say in the department, the “electric blues”. It was our old uniform that mirrored the state police uniform. You never got out of the car without your hat on, your radio on, or your stick. Man, those were gorgeous uniforms. Didn’t matter if you were on the corner or if you walked into a chaotic situation; as long as you were wearing the electric blue you caught everyone’s attention and just commanded respect. So at 18 years old I put down the baseball glove and picked up the phone to answer 911 calls. It all started for me as a police dispatcher and 911 operator for the city of Hackensack.
The Chief at the time, Ken Zisa, had started a civilian program called HCOPS. I was a member of one of the very first classes. You went to the Academy twice a week at night and you learned the basics of police work. I learned to write parking summonses and how to direct traffic. When we graduated we were utilized appropriately. We wrote parking summonses on private property and we would assist with traffic at fire scenes or motor vehicle accidents. It really just reinforced my decision that I wanted to do this for a living. I’d be lying if I said the salary, benefits, and pension weren’t a factor too.
What kind of training did you receive?
While in the Academy you receive your basic training. There are mandatory tests that you have to pass or you’ll be expelled. One obvious one is the use of force. It’s an issue that you see questioned on a daily basis in the news. You also learned the law, which in the end is your most powerful tool. I was told by a lieutenant one time that when you know the law and you know your job no one can ever mess with you. After 20 years I can look back on that conversation and see how true it is.
Anytime I was with a rookie as a field training officer I would tell them the same thing. I would stress to that rookie how important is to know the law and to know their job. You need to know when you can go into someone’s motor vehicle and when you can search an individual‘s pockets. You don’t know how important these things are until you’re sitting in court, in what we call “the box,” and you have an attorney drilling you with questions. You can feel every set of eyes in that courtroom on you and the second you stumble, the attorney will move in for the kill.
When you’re in the beginning stages of your career you pick up different things from different officers. Each officer will have their own way of handling different situations. In the end, you take a little bit of this and a little bit of that and mix it up with your own way of doing things until you’ve got your own style.
I was the type of guy that really enjoyed talking with people to get to see where their heads were at and what they were thinking. I always found it fascinating to see someone else’s outlook on something or their reasoning for doing something or acting a certain way. I had an open approach to dealing with people but it was also a safe approach. Whether it was when I was in uniform and my backup was there or when I was in plainclothes with my partner, or even when I supervised undercover operations, I always made sure safety came first.
One of the best things about law-enforcement is that it doesn’t matter if you’re on the job for 10 years or 20 years, there’s always more you can learn. As technology evolves there is always something new to learn. Criminals learn as well, of course. It was always a game where they tried to stay one step ahead of us and we tried to stay one step ahead of them.
Have there ever been any times that you doubted yourself or your abilities? How did you handle this?
No. I can honestly say that to be a good police officer, a good detective, and a good interviewer you can never doubt yourself. You can never second-guess yourself about the way you handled something.
You should have a plan going into something. You should never just run into a scene or an interview blindly. In fact, a good interviewer would do a great deal of background research on any individual being interviewed. You always want to know who you’re dealing with.
After being involved in my last traumatic incident on the job, though, I did feel that if I was ever in the same situation again I may hesitate in making the decision that I did. I was a very hands-on commander and was always in the field with my men. If I ever questioned something for a second and delayed a decision that needed to be made I could put one of my men’s safety in jeopardy. This was one of the factors that led to my decision to retire after 20 years. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I ever got one of my guys hurt because of hesitation.
Are there any career moments that really stand out for you?
I’ve been blessed with a tremendous law enforcement career. I’ve experienced things in this profession in 20 years that some officers may never see or be a part of. I’ve seen the beauty of life coming into this world when I assisted with a child being born and I’ve seen evil, where poor innocent people had their lives taken from them for no reason. Families that just had loved ones taken away from them in a split second.
One of my most memorable cases actually ended up being the largest child pornography arrests in the history of the state of New Jersey. It brought me a lot of satisfaction taking an animal like that off the streets. I’m a father of five and it meant the world to me knowing that this sick person could never hurt children again. This guy acted as a main server for over 2 TB of child pornography. It was one of the most satisfying days of my life sitting at his sentencing and watching the judge deliver his sentence.
I spent 10 years of my career in the Juvenile Bureau as a detective and eventually worked my way up to division commander. The car chases, foot pursuits, narcotic arrests, and money laundering cases never gave me as much satisfaction as the time that I spent in the Juvenile bureau.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make on the job in the last few months?
I think it’s obvious that the toughest decision that I’ve ever had to make was to leave the job. I endured so much throughout my career and saw a lot of things that normal people don’t and shouldn’t ever see. There was one incident in particular for me that was the icing on the cake.
We were in pursuit of an individual that had committed a double homicide. This individual had killed his wife and four-year-old son in Jersey City and was now hiding in the city of Hackensack. We were able to track him down eventually and had him cornered in this back bedroom of a home. I gave the order to take down the door. The room was dark and small and the suspect was holding a large steak knife. With our guns drawn, he was told several times to drop it and get on the ground in both Spanish and English. The suspect lunged at one of the team members, shots were fired, and the suspect went down. I radioed for an ambulance immediately for the suspect. I started securing the scene but then realized that I had been struck in the left hand with a round fired by one of the other officers. I contemplated the job for a long time after that and eventually decided it was best to retire.
What do you think it is that makes you a successful police officer?
I think what made me such a successful police officer was my ability to connect with people. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth and I never forgot where I came from. I know the struggles that my mother had raising me as a single parent. I’ll always be very thankful for the opportunities that I’ve been given. It’s an old saying that everyone knows but just treat people the way that you would want to be treated.
I always found that if you just stopped and talked to people, whether they were wearing raggedy clothing or a $1000 suit, talk to them as if they are the same person. Talking to people and networking with other law enforcement officers and agencies are all part of the job. I spoke to a lot of officers that would get down on themselves and say that they are just a patrolman. You should never think that you’re less than what you are. That officer that calls himself or herself just a patrolman or patrolwoman should realize that he or she is the first person called to that scene and everything that he or she does and says is viewed under a microscope by the victim, by the bad guy, and by people that are just standing around as witnesses. He or she is such an important part of that situation, which could lead to a huge investigation.
What made me so successful was that I treated everyone the same and I treated every situation like it was my last case. I never gave up on a lead and I followed up on every single phone call. I always did what I said I was going to do. If I ran into a dead end during an investigation it was my job to find a detour and it was my job to think outside the box until I was able to accomplish what I set out to do. I showed everyone respect because I wanted to be respected. I’ll never apologize for wanting to be the best at everything that I do.
What does the future hold for you?
Well, I am enjoying the retired life currently. I’m enjoying the time spent with my wife and children. I have the opportunity now to travel more and I do look forward to relocating my residency when my oldest is out of high school. I am now venturing into the real estate field with Blueline Reality, which I’m very excited about. It’s a different kind of service but it’s similar to law enforcement in the sense that I get to meet and talk to new people on a daily basis and help them try to change their lives for the better.
Say, an individual has dreams of starting up their own company. I could be the one to find a nice commercial building for them to get their dreams off the ground. That’s very satisfying to me. I get to continue to serve the community but now I can branch out even more all throughout Bergen County, New Jersey. It’s a very satisfying feeling for me and like I said, I’m looking forward to doing this very much.
What advice would you give to aspiring police officers?
The best advice I could give to an individual that aspires to be a police officer or someone who’s a rookie officer is to remember that you are there to do exactly what it says on the side of that vehicle: protect and to serve. Making arrests, pulling over cars and writing tickets are an important part of what we do but it’s not all we do. Respecting others and holding yourself to a higher standard are important things to remember. Just because you wear the badge does not give you the right to violate someone’s rights or to talk down to someone and treat them disrespectfully. To wear that badge is an honor. To wear that uniform and have that title is an honor. You represent not only yourself but your family, your city, and all the men and women that have paved the way for you to do what you’re doing now: serving the public.
Think before you say something to someone. Understand that people have things going on in their lives every day that we don’t know about and vice versa. The public needs to know that we are human beings too. You have to remember that people call the police because they need help and we, as professionals, have to be able to put our personal feelings, opinions, and problems to the side.
Be kind to others. Show sympathy and remorse but be an authority figure when you have to be. It’s not always necessary to flex your muscles. It takes a bigger man or woman to open up their hearts and listen than to label and judge someone right away. I wish all the men and women that put on this uniform every single day the very best. My family and I pray for all of you and for your families and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your service. May God hold you tight in his arms when need be and Saint Michael look over you every step of the way. Always remember “ We Work For God.”