My first byline in The Courier was on January 4, 1968. I had written for the paper for six months or so, and had a lot of stories about politics, American Legion meetings, Girl Scouts, and all the other mundane events and organizations that are so important in our small communities. Most of the stories were about events in Highlands, where we lived, where I knew the most people, and where I had some insight into activities going on.
I don’t remember why I wrote about Jack Mackel, other than he was the Police Chief, and Publisher Matthew J. Gill asked me to write about local people of interest. Jack and his wife Jeannette lived across the street from us on Huddy Avenue. Jack isn’t what I’d call an ‘aggressive chief,’ in fact, I always thought it was a part time job for him, since he also worked with Tommy Lyons, doing electrical work. But for the paper, I wrote the following:
Highlands Police Chief
He loves his coastal town
Highlands, New Jersey is a favorite place of Police Chief John J. Mackel, and has 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 have two children, both 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 was 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.
Chief Mackel heads a bureau of six regular officers and two specials, including a juvenile officer and identification officer. The department fields two patrol cars.
Chief Mackel has seen 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. the 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 now has three ambulances to serve the small community.
The Chief has been 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.
When Chief Mackel first joined the force there were a total of four men in the department. There were few benefits such as pensions and the like at the time. Today. The Chief remarks, things are looking up for the policemen in Highlands as they have had pensions since 1948 and were recently granted a salary increase, clothing allowances and a 40-hour week.
The New Jersey Association of Police Chiefs is expected to make a survey of the department which will hopefully bring about an increase in the department to eight men. Chief Mackel explained that the town has a steady population of about 3,800 residents, but that in the summer time there is a jump 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.
Chief Mackel says recent years have seen a spurt in juvenile problems but, he says, “when a town grows, so do your problems.” He feels mostly that is because young people no longer have strong parental guidance.
The Chief would like to see an improvement in the training given in police schools. He states that they are excellent schools but that they are geared primarily to the police departments in large cities. “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 said. He would like to see the training for rural district police changed to fit the needs of the smaller departments.
Away from the job, Chief Mackel enjoys carpentry and fishing. He goes mostly for fluke but told us 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,” he said.
Chief Mackel has made a practice of giving with his hands to his community, but gives, too, of his whole heart, which is why, even when dealing with the dark side of the world, he sees so much beauty in his hometown.