Outgoing Jersey City Police Chief Kelly receives recognition during last day on the job

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Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez, and dozens of members of the city’s police department participated in a “walk out” ceremony to honor retiring Police Chief Michael Kelly during his last day on the job.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

The bagpipes played as many JCPD officers stood in formation to commemorate Kelly exiting the police headquarters at 1 Journal Square Plaza for the last time, signifying the end of his 34-year law enforcement career.

Kelly, 59, joined the JCPD in 1988. He rose through the ranks to become the leader of the department in 2018. Kelly credited his work as a homicide detective for exposing him to the aspects of police work that intrigue him most such as cracking cases and pursuing criminals.

Deputy Chief Mike Gajewski served as the emcee for the event and joked that many ranking officers never thought they would see the day when Kelly actually followed through on retiring.

” … We didn’t believe we’d ever see this day: see, for those of us who don’t know Mike, he’s been retiring five times a year for the last eight years we’ve heard this. So even when he sat down to tell us he was retiring, it took him about two hours to convince us.”

Fulop indicated that selecting Kelly was a meticulous process. His predecessor, Philip Zache, pleaded guilty to stealing time via off-duty details at a housing authority building and has since lost his pension.

“Today is a bittersweet day for the city of Jersey City. We’re sad to see Chief Kelly retire … We struggled with the two previous chiefs. We wanted to make sure we got this one right,” the mayor said.

“When we started the process no one thought we would wind up with Chief Kelly. I didn’t really know him. I knew his reputation. Mike came in and talked a lot about the police officers, the rank and file guys out there, his love of the city, why he never left the city. I left that conversation knowing Mike Kelly was the right guy for the job. I haven’t regretted that decision since the day I made it.”

As a token of his appreciation for his service, Fulop ended up presenting Kelly with a key to the city.

Two of Kelly’s peers, Public Safety Director James Shea and Police Director Tawana Moody, also gave high marks to the city’s outgoing top cop.

“He’s magnificent. He’s fulfilled more than we had hoped for … I pray no future chief has to face the challenges that he has had to face in so short an amount of time,” said Shea.

Suarez followed suit, stating that she felt Kelly was the right person to lead JCPD over the past few years.

“It was always so comforting to know in a moment of crisis, and we have had just a few of those, unfortunately … I could look to him and knew he had it. He knew exactly what we should do,” she explained.

“You have changed the tone and the tenor with the JCPD, with all of us. We’re going to miss you.”

Kelly called the JCPD “the best police department in the whole wide world,” adding that he was sending well wishes to all 950 or so men and women in the department.

While he acknowledged that he didn’t always get along with Shea and Moody, they always managed to reach the best outcome for the city.

“Sometimes we fought like cats and dogs. But it was always for the betterment of the city and the men and women who worked here. I look forward to watching that continue,” the chief noted.

He also thanked several police officers who served as his staff and senior officers in the department.

“We locked up so many bad guys and had a lot of fun doing it,” Kelly said regarding his team.

Prior to the ceremony’s conclusion, Kelly said that Capt. Mark Conroy will be the department’s acting chief for at least the next few days as the city works on appointing his successor.