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New Jersey State Police Superintendent Col. Pat Callahan. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Callahan nomination advances unanimously after difficult Senate hearing

Sweeney and Weinberg have harsh words, yes votes for acting State Police superintendent

By Joey Fox, December 16 2021 3:43 pm

Acting New Jersey State Police Superintendent Patrick Callahan was put through the ringer of the Senate Judiciary Committee today, with senators sternly questioning Callahan on the subjects of racial profiling, diversity in the state police, and the chaotic events of December 2, when Republican Assemblymembers protested a statehouse vaccine-or-test mandate.

But despite the dramatic questioning, the actual vote was something of an afterthought, with all 11 members of the committee voting in favor, including the committee’s four Republicans. Callahan’s nomination will now move forward to the full Senate, where he will likely face few impediments to confirmation.

Callahan first ascended to acting superintendent in October 2017 under Gov. Chris Christie, but his formal nomination was stalled for years afterwards. 

Gov. Phil Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) finally reached a deal to move Callahan forward in May, and Callahan’s home county senator, State Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Oxford), signed off on the nomination twice – once in 2018, and a second time on May 14, 2021. Despite being on the Judiciary Committee, Doherty did not attend Callahan’s hearing today.

Thanks to the governor’s frequent Covid press briefings with Callahan at his side, the acting superintendent became something of a household face over the course of the pandemic. But arguably the most prominent test of his career came just two weeks ago, when state troopers appeared befuddled as to how to handle renegade Republican legislators who refused to abide by statehouse Covid policies.

The chaos of that day was a major focus of today’s confirmation hearing, with Sweeney, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), and State Sen. Michael Testa (R-Vineland) in particular harping on Callahan for answers.

Acting Superintendent of the State Police Pat Callahan appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee on December 16. (Photo: Joey Fox for the New Jersey Globe).

“How do you see the plain and unambiguous language of our New Jersey Constitution gel with the directive that was imposed upon the New Jersey State Police to ask each and every legislator for either a vaccine card or a negative test?” Testa asked.

Callahan declined to answer, saying that the mandate’s constitutionality was currently under discussion in the courts.

“Who requested the investigation [into the events of December 2]?” Weinberg questioned.

Callahan demurred, claiming that he couldn’t speak freely on the investigation while it was underway.

“With all due respect, colonel, I think you’re stonewalling us,” Sweeney said after his own questions about Callahan’s interactions with the attorney general went unanswered.

Separate from the discussion of the statehouse mandate, State Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Delran) had his own pointed questions for Callahan, asking about racial disparities in police interactions and whether Callahan had ever personally been accused of racial profiling.

Callahan said he had, twice, when he was a lower-level officer; the court ruled in his favor in one matter, and the state settled with the complainant in the other. He also highlighted the work he and the State Police have done to increase racial diversity within their own ranks and foster understanding between officers and the communities they serve.

“The biggest challenge facing modern-day law enforcement is earning and maintaining the sacred trust our communities have bestowed upon us,” Callahan said in his opening remarks. “To keep them safe, and to do it in a manner that is reflective of the virtues and values that our communities hold dear.”

Not every senator was critical of Callahan’s tenure, and State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) in particular complimented Callahan for his leadership through the difficulties caused by Covid.

“I don’t think the colonel ever signed up to be on TV for 18 months,” Sarlo said. “[He tried] to walk that fine line of balancing people’s rights to go to work or go to the store, while at the same time protecting public health. There’s got to be some recognition of how he really threaded the needle on that for 18 months.”

When, after nearly an hour and a half, Callahan’s nomination was officially put up for a vote, every senator voted in favor. By that time, the hearing had gone on long enough that several senators had already departed the meeting and left a “yes” vote in their stead.

“I’m not going to hold this disagreement against a career,” Sweeney said of his yes vote; the Senate President later confirmed that Callahan would in fact go before the full Senate during the lame duck session.

“I’m very disappointed,” Sweeney added, “but I’m not holding it against you.”

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