Police Chief Who Brought D.A.R.E. to New Jersey Dies
Chief James Rittgers (Ret.) leaves behind a standing legacy in the New Milford Police Department.
During his tenure as New Milford's Chief of Police from 1988 to 1991, Chief James Rittgers would carefully analyze all aspects of a situation before reaching a measured conclusion while holding his signature pipe in hand.
"He was never heavy handed with discipline nor demeaning toward his officers," remembers Police Chief Frank Papapietro.
According to Papapietro, when discipline was called for, Rittgers was firm, but fair.
"He always made his point with an even-toned fatherly 'advice session' which always left the offending officer remorseful, but respecting the Chief’s viewpoint," he said.
Born in Oklahoma City, Rittgers came to New Milford where, after serving in the army during the Korean War, he joined the New Milford Police Department on April 1, 1955. Rittgers rose through the ranks of the force and was appointed Chief of the Department in 1988.
During his tenure as chief, Rittgers instituted New Jersey's first D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program. Papapietro credits D.A.R.E.'s national success with Rittgers insight in recognizing the value of bringing police officers into the school system to teach children about the effects of drug and alcohol use.
Papapietro added, "The implementation of D.A.R.E. also gave birth to other police-community initiatives such as the School Resource Officer Program and Community Policing."
In 1980, Rittgers was awarded the Exceptional Duty Medal from the Bergen County Police Chiefs Association and was inducted into the New Jersey Police Honor Legion for apprehending a suspect in an armed robbery at the Haworth Racquet Club.
According to Papapietro, Rittgers apprehended the suspect at New Bridge and River Roads.
"That apprehension closed several armed robbery cases throughout the County," Papapietro said.
Rittgers was steward of the department during its darkest days when six police officers were laid off due to budgetary constraints.
"The only time I saw him raise his voice was when he informed the Mayor and Council that their actions would have devastating effects on the safety of the borough and the department," Papapietro said.
However, despite his pleas, the layoffs were implemented, taking an emotional toll on Rittgers, who retired shortly thereafter.
In addition to his role in the police department, Rittgers was a life member of the New Milford Ambulance Corp.
Rittgers was a dedicated family man and a regular fixture with his wife, Helen, at Sunday Mass at St. Joseph, where he belonged to the Knights of Columbus.
"Those of us who knew and worked with him were never in doubt that Helen was the love of his life and his children, Lisa, Dianne and Jim, were his true pride and joy," Papapietro said.
In retirement Rittgers enjoyed golfing and trips to his residence in Brigantine.
"He seemed to know when I needed him to call me," Papapietro reflected. "He always shared a past experience to help me with whatever problem I was facing to show me that when it comes to problems, there’s really nothing new under the sun."
"It is those conversations, his insight from the past and his lifetime of wisdom, that I will miss the most," he added.
Mayor Subrizi has ordered all flags in the borough be flown at half staff for one month in Rittgers honor.