Highlands, New Jersey was a favorite place of Police Chief John J. Mackel and had been ever since he met his wife here and settled down to become a citizen of the coastal town.
Born in Shamokin, Pennsylvania, May 3, 1913, Chief Mackel came to New Jersey in 1932 and married the former Jeannette Meyer, a Highlands girl, in 1934, The Mackels had two children, both of whom married, John K of Belford and Patricia Ann Gardner of East Keansburg.
Before entering police work, Chief Mackel worked for Ford Motor Company and Reading Railroad in supervisory positions as well as in the fields of carpentry, electrical service and fuel oil burners.
He joined the Highlands police force in 1945 as a patrolman, was made Sergeant in 1958 and elevated to the rank of Captain in April of 1966. After spending a few months as acting chief, he became full Chief of the Highlands Police Department in April of 1967.
PHOTO: Chief John J. Mackel
Chief Mackel headed a bureau of six regular officers and two specials, including a juvenile officer and identification officer. The department fielded two patrol cars.
Chief Mackel always said he saw many changes in the borough since he became a resident. Always active in community affairs, he was president of the Highlands First Aid Squad from 1943 to 1948. At that time, the building which now houses the squad and equipment, was started. The Chief is justifiably proud of the fact that the First Aid Squad had three ambulances to serve the small community.
The Chief was also an active member of the Highlands Fire Department, Columbia Hose Company, for 22 and a half years. He also served as vice-president of the PBA, Local 48, in 1958, a position he had to give up when he was made Sergeant.
He was Assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 25 in 1949 and Scoutmaster of that troop from 1941 through `44. In 1943, Chief Mackel headed the sixth War Bond Drive in his area and brought the drive in way over the top. This feat helped the Chief ease his disappointment at not being able to join the service as he so badly wanted to do. His job with the Ford Motor Company was draft exempt, as he was needed where he was.
In an interview with a now-defunct local weekly newspaper (The Courier) after he was named Chief, Mackel recalled that when he joined the force there were only four men in the department, and few pensions or other benefits at the time. But in that interview he predicted things were looking up for the policemen in Highlands since pensions went into effect in 1948 and department members had recently been granted a salary increase, clothing allowances and a 40-hour week.
The Chief further spoke about the population of the borough, explaining the town had a steady population of about 3,800 residents, but in the summer it jumped to nearly 12,000 people accounting for the increases in crime during the summer months. With the added attraction of the Sandy Hook State Park, traffic problems increase then, too, all of which prompted the NJ Association of Police Chiefs to conduct a survey to ascertain whether there should be a department increase to eight officers.
As Chief, Mackel also conceded there had been a spurt in juvenile problems but, he quickly pointed out, “when a town grows, so do its problems.” He opined the problem was because young people no longer have strong parental guidance.
In interviews with newspaper during his tenure as Chief, Mackel said he would like to see an improvement in the training given in police schools, saying there were excellent schools but that they are geared primarily to larce city police departments. “Some of the instructions given such as “on approaching a car with two or three in it, call headquarters for additional help’ just do not apply to a force the size of ours,’ Chief Mackel told the reporter. He wanted to see training for rural district police changed to fit the needs of the smaller departments.
Away from the job, Chief Mackel enjoyed carpentry and fishing, mostly for fluke but also said he used to be ‘pretty good’ with striped bass catching about 40 or 50 a year. He caught them in the river when they came in to feed on shrimp and other fishy treats.
The Chief said he and his wife have traveled to many other states and towns in the country, but “we always love coming back to Highlands. There is nothing more beautiful than watching the sunrise over the sea, especially when the trees are frosted with snow.”
Chief Mackel made a practice of giving with his hands to his community, but gave, too, of his whole heart, which was why, even when dealing with the dark side of the world, he saw so much beauty in his hometown.
Jack Mackel died March 17, 2000, preceded in death two years previously by his son, Jack, and earlier, by a grandson.