December 7, 2022

New Police Chief Jonathan Bucchere Charts PPD Path Forward in 21st Century Policing

By Donald Gilpin

“Balance,” “fairness,” “relationships in the community,” and a “guardian” attitude are key words that recur throughout the discussion on policing with new Princeton Police Department (PPD) Chief Jonathan Bucchere, who was sworn into office at the November 14 Princeton Council meeting.

On Friday, December 2, at about 3 p.m., Bucchere, who takes pride in putting his words into action, could be found manning the school crossing at Witherspoon Street and Birch Avenue.

“We were short-staffed and a lot of school crossings had to be covered,” he said. “While I was out there working, at least three or four people who knew me stopped and thanked me and commented on the fact that I was out there doing the school crossing.”

He continued, “The best part of the job is building relationships. Policing is all about relationships, whether it be the community or the men and women of the department. It’s the most rewarding part of what we do.”

He described the model of 21st century policing that was introduced under former PPD Chief Nick Sutter and has taken hold in Princeton and across the country over the past seven years. “It’s really embracing the guardian mentality over the warrior mentality,” said Bucchere. “You can use a balanced approach to enforcement, and you do so under the guardian mentality, building relationships in the community. You’re not out there trying to arrest everyone and issue citations to everyone.”

Bucchere, who was born in Princeton, grew up in Hamilton, and graduated from The College of New Jersey before attending the State Police Academy, joined the Princeton Borough Police in 1999 as a patrol officer.

“My oldest brother Louis was the main reason I decided to enter law enforcement,” said Bucchere. “He is a retired New Jersey state trooper and held the rank of major. When I graduated from the State Police Academy my brother presented me with my certification. He’s still the first person I call when I need advice or direction.”

Bucchere was promoted to PPD sergeant in 2007, lieutenant in 2016, captain in 2020, and chief on November 1, 2022, succeeding Chief Christopher Morgan, who announced his retirement in May after more than 25 years of service.

Bucchere has held every rank and served in or supervised every department of the Princeton Police. He said that the first month as chief of police had been challenging, but he noted, “There are a number of people who have reached out to me and offered their support. These same people are some of the best leaders I’ve ever worked with, and they continue to be mentors to me.”

Expanding on the idea of 21st century policing, a concept emerging from a presidential task force in 2015, Bucchere discussed the goal of changing policing for the better. “What they came up with was that police departments in America need to have legitimacy in the community,” he said. “Internally you do that through policy and oversight, and through the community you would do that through building relationships and being transparent with your policy. What we’ve tried to do ever since then is to be the best version of ourselves with that as a guide.”

On the question of enforcing the laws, Bucchere again highlighted the importance of balance. “There needs to be balance,” he said. “There needs to be fairness. Our officers need to understand that there’s more than one way to correct behaviors. Let’s say, with regard to motor vehicle laws, if a warning can accomplish your goal of correcting behavior, then you’ve won because you’re balanced. You’re getting your point across, and if someone was speeding let’s say, the road might be safer after your warning.”

But a warning is not always the answer. “Not everybody is going to accept a warning and make a change,” he continued, “and that’s when you might have to write a speeding ticket and when you have to enforce laws. But if you do so to such a degree that you lack balance, then it can corrode the relationship you have with the community and it can lead to a variety of problems.”

He added, “We have to spend a lot of time and energy teaching our younger officers how to be balanced and to be guardians of the community.” 

Building relationships with the community has been a major priority for the PPD. Bucchere explained why this outreach is so important. “Without relationships, you’re invisible in the community,” he said. “We have 48 officers now, and we want each of those officers to be known in the  community and to have relationships because when you do that you are embedded in the community and you can really be a part of it. When you don’t have those relationships, you might be doing the job, but you’re essentially doing it alone.”

In the months and years ahead at the helm of the PPD, Bucchere has a number of particular items on his agenda. Preparing for a March 2023 on-site inspection by the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police as part of the accreditation process will be a top priority in the early months of the new year. Other upcoming projects for the PPD may include the establishment of a community police academy, with weekly sessions highlighting areas of policing that the community might not know about; a virtual reality training system for the edification of the community; and creation of an awards committee.

Bucchere is also planning to revamp the department’s process and policies for recruiting and hiring new officers. The most recent recruitment effort yielded fewer candidates than the previous recruitment. “We have to reinvent how we recruit and make it more part of our daily job, rather than it being something that we do only when we have planned retirements,” he said. “The police department should mirror the community it serves. To that end I want to recruit heavily within Princeton.”

Bucchere wrapped up the interview by returning to the themes that form the foundation of his police work and his vision for the PPD. “We’re here to serve the people of Princeton as best we can and to continue to be a part of the community and to build relationships,” he said. “We need to be part of the community in order to make positive changes.”