Hak replaces outgoing chief Mark Cavallo, who retires after 41 years with the department. The new chief says his focus is on community policing, staffing and recruitment, and leading a young department into its next phase of growth.
By Matt Skoufalos | October 2, 2023
Last week, in a municipal meeting room overflowing with public safety professionals from volunteer firefighters to FBI agents, Haddon Township swore in its first new police chief in two decades.
Township resident Tim Hak, a Merchantville native who’d risen to the rank of captain through 15 years with the department, took his oath of service as chief twice — once before Haddon Township Commissioner James Mulroy, and then again with Audubon Park Mayor Larry Pennock, whose community outsources its police services to Haddon Township.
Hak replaces outgoing Haddon Township Police Chief Mark Cavallo, a 41-year veteran of the department who recently reached retirement age, Haddon Township Mayor Randy Teague said.
Although the governing body could have reauthorized Cavallo to continue in the role, the retiring chief “felt very confident in Hak’s ability to lead the department,” Teague said.
“We’re doing a lot more of the community policing outreach to residents, and [Hak]’s been at the forefront of leading that,” he said.
In his rise through the ranks, Hak “has excelled at every position he’s been in,” the mayor said, citing the new chief’s completion of the FBI National Academy professional training program for law enforcement leadership as part of his reputation for “always seek[ing] additional education and information.”
In his departure, Cavallo leaves an enduring legacy within the department that Hak traces to his own hiring as a Class II officer 15 years ago. The outgoing chief frequently mentored younger officers over lunch or a cup of coffee, leveraging stories from his years in law enforcement to help present a different perspective on things.
“He’s a mentor to everybody; somebody who would sit down and have conversations with anybody,” Hak said. “He’s really good with understanding the other side because he’s been through a lot of different things.”
The most important lesson Hak learned from Cavallo was about approaching his job with compassion, he said.
“A lot of law enforcement leadership training talks about having compassion and understanding, not just for your community, but your officers,” Hak said.
“It’s just kind of who he was.”
Hak said he plans to carry through that perspective in his own leadership of a Haddon Township police department that trends younger, and is growing together as a unit.
He pointed to their collective efforts in helping the department earn its accreditation through the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police last year, an accomplishment that required buy-in from officers at every level of the agency.
“It is a very hard process,” Hak said. “It caused us to redo all of our policies and procedures, caused some physical structural changes, and in order to keep up this accreditation, it’s a lot of work.
“It is very time- and task-driven, and you really need to make a commitment,” he said. “Our department is proud of it. We’ve really come together collectively to be the best department we can be.
The new chief described himself as “community-based,” both in his outlook on the work of law enforcement and in his connections to Haddon Township. A married father of two school-aged children, Hak said the welfare of the municipality is “personal,” commanding his attention even in off-hours.
“I’m going to be listening, I’m going to be watching, and we’re going to provide the absolute best public safety to ensure a community that thrives, because that’s what the town expects, and a good police department delivers that,” Hak said.
To get there, the department will need to fill some personnel vacancies in both rank-and-file and administrative roles. Hak’s departure from the role of captain leaves room for subsequent promotions into the command staff; currently, the department has just one administrative officer on its roster, a lieutenant.
The new chief believes a total of three administrative staff are needed, whether they be deputy chiefs, captains, lieutenants, or administrative sergeants.
To get there, officers must be qualified for the roles, pass exams, and be approved by the township commissioners.
Additionally, hiring in general is a present challenge in law enforcement, as full-time officers are in short supply across the profession.
“It is not easy to get officers as it once was,” Hak said. “There’s not many of them, and there’s a lot of competition, so we have to sell Haddon Township and our police department. They have to make sure they know that this is a place to grow, and they can see themselves as a part of the community.”
To that end, Haddon Township will sign on its new hires to 30-year commitments, Hak said, instead of the 25 for which they would be contracted previously. Adding more professionals to the department roster is important to help relieve the current staff from being overtaxed and short-shifted.
“I don’t foresee any issues” in hiring new personnel, Hak said. “I feel very supported by the mayor and commissioners. Public safety is a top priority for them.”
Hak’s appointment also comes at a time when the township police force is preparing for the possibility of additional changes to its physical infrastructure. As neighboring communities like Collingswood and Haddonfield overhaul their aging police administrative buildings to remain in compliance with state requirements, it’s possible Haddon Township could move to overhaul its own headquarters.
Teague described the police department, which is currently housed in the basement of the Haddon Township municipal building as “getting old,” and “something we will have to be looking at in the future.”
“We will always be looking at our facility, at our procedures, and how we do policing in Haddon Township,” the mayor said.
In terms of law enforcement priorities, Haddon Township is working to expand its community-oriented policing to engage more meaningfully with children in the public school district as well as on the streets of the township, Hak said.
The department also is working to address quality-of-life issues, like property crimes, shoplifting at commercial centers, and traffic enforcement.
More than anything, Hak said he’s filled with enthusiasm and gratitude at the opportunity of his hiring.
Although he said career advancement was never an objective throughout his work as a police officer, the chief credited this support of his wife, Mary Kate, with caring for the family so that he could manage the responsibilities of the job that his rank required, from patrol officer through to captain.
“I never did anything in my job for the promotion,” Hak said. “We sacrificed a lot, and my wife is a rock.
“I feel like the payoff for her is that I will have different types of opportunities to help out with all the things that I didn’t before,” he said. “I’m excited about it, and my family’s excited.”
In a ceremony that packed a room with his friends, family, and professional colleagues, Hak was emotional with gratitude in the moment.
“That just means the world to me,” he said. “I’m excited at the opportunity. I’m ready for the challenge, and I don’t think it’s going to be easy. It’s a lot of things coming together.”
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