“Bittersweet” was the word often repeated Friday afternoon (Aug. 24) as Lawrence Township said goodbye to four police officers during a ceremony that was held at the Lawrence Township police station just hours after the four were officially sworn in by their new employer, the Hamilton Township Police Department.
Erini Papafilipakis, Chris Schuster, Iwona Smith and Chris Stylianou from Lawrence Township to Hamilton Township’s police force in advance of being laid off because of Lawrence’s municipal budget woes.
Smith and Styliano were set to lose their jobs as part of the , while Papafilipakis and Schuster were .
The four officers had a combined 12 years of service to Lawrence Township.
“I’ve been here a long time. I never thought I would see this day. I told [Police] Chief [Jim] Collins [of Hamilton Township] our loss is your gain,” Lawrence Township Police Chief Daniel Posluszny told the departing officers and their families. “You are always a part of us. If you ever need anything, we are here for you.”
Later, he told a Patch reporter, “I’m going to miss them a lot.”
Schuster said the decision to leave Lawrence was difficult, but one that he needed to make in order to provide for his family.
“I’m at a loss. It’s all friends here. This is a great place. But I’ve got three kids and I can’t wait around [to be laid off],” he said. “Layoffs happen, but I’m sad to go. The good thing is, I get to take a lot with me.”
For Smith, this marks the second time she has escaped a layoff as a police officer. A year ago she just before the state’s capital city laid off more than 100 police officers.
“I’m happy I’ll have a job to go to,” she said. When she transferred from Trenton a year ago, Smith was told 'we’ll never have layoffs' in Lawrence.
“It is unbelievable. I hope this is it for me,” she said.
Smith speaks both Russian and Polish, and believes she might be the only police officer in Mercer County who speaks Polish. In her farewell speech on Friday, she offered to continue to act as a translator on an as-needed basis for Lawrence.
Papafilipakis grew up in Lawrence Township. “I was born and raised here. I’m really going to miss all the guys here,” she said.
She said she is trying to look at it as a case of “one door closing and another door opening.”
“It shows how great a department we are. We are knowledgeable, educated, and disciplined,” Papafilipakis said, noting that Hamilton “is a very welcoming department. I’m looking forward to it.”
Stylianou is another hometown police officer. Before joining the Lawrence Township Police Department, he was a member of the New York City Police Department.
“My parents still live here. It is a sad day to not be able to ride out my career here,” Stylianou said. “I get to stay in the area. I’m grateful for the opportunity Hamilton gave me and the other officers. I’m embracing that I am going to Hamilton.”
As with Smith, Stylianou said he hopes “the third time is the charm.” With his wife expecting their first child in December, he added, “It is big relief knowing I have a job.”
Following speeches and small celebration, the officers were officially dismissed from duty during a ceremony in front of the police station that featured Bagpipers from the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office and the Ancient Order of the Hibernians.
One by one, Chief Posluszny said to the departing officers “I’d like to thank you for your service to the Lawrence Township Police Department and wish you all the best in your service with the Police Department in Hamilton Township. You are now dismissed from duty.”
Posluszny concluded by radioing the township’s dispatcher to “please alert patrol our roll call has now ended and that badge numbers 219, 220, 223 and 224 have been retired.”
“It is really sad. I’m very glad Hamilton could pick them up as fast as they could,” said Andrew Lee, president of Lawrence Township Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 209.
It remains unclear at this time how the transfers of the four officers will affect the fate of Officer Ryan Dunn, a recent who was set to be laid off with Smith and Styliano at the end of this month.