The Signal

Serving the College since 1885

Saturday June 15th

In memory: Former Campus Police Chief John Collins’ legacy of service and dedication

<p><em>Chief John Collins served the College from January 2008 to December 2016 (Photo courtesy of Luke Sacks).</em></p>

Chief John Collins served the College from January 2008 to December 2016 (Photo courtesy of Luke Sacks).

By Ally Uhlendorf
Arts & Entertainment Editor

John Collins, who served as the College’s Chief of Police from January 2008 through December 2016, died on April 26. Chief Collins fought a valiant battle with health challenges that stemmed back to his selfless efforts during the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. 

“Chief Collins brought a deep commitment to community policing. He came to understand our community; he was trusted,” said former College President R. Barbara Gitenstein. “His principles, his work ethic, his care for TCNJ all made him someone I could trust in some of the most difficult times on a college campus — times of crisis.” 

Collins’ expertise was rooted in leadership and community safety, stemming from his experience serving as commanding officer of the Lincoln Tunnel for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in the months after the 9/11 attacks. As a member of the Emergency Services Unit, he played a pivotal role in the rescue and recovery operations at Ground Zero. He was also part of the rescue crew that saved victims after the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, where six civilians were killed. His heroic actions highlighted his passion for service and sacrifice. 

“John was an American hero — a member of the elite Emergency Services Unit who volunteered at Ground Zero, assisting for months with the rescue and recovery operation,” said Associate Vice President for College Advancement and Chief Communications and Marketing Officer Dave Muha. “John is the latest of more than 2,000 first responders to have died from a 9/11-related illness.” 

Working for the College for eight years, Chief Collins left a legacy on the campus community and the safety of the College. Collins began his career as chief of police at the College in 2008, under the leadership of Gitenstein. 

Collins embarked on a transformative journey that left an indelible mark on the campus. While serving in this position, he championed the principles of community policing, fostering trust and communication between students, faculty and staff. Collins also developed the College’s critical incident team, which laid a strong foundation for its crisis response. 

“The most notable occurred in the fall of 2012 when he helped lead the college’s local response to Superstorm Sandy,” Muha said. “He was a trusted advisor to campus leadership, a respected mentor to new officers and senior colleagues alike, and a valued resource to the campus community.”

Collins was responsible for the implementation of the emergency texts that students receive, keeping everyone on campus informed of any alerts. He was known for always staying composed during emergency situations, as well as for his strong communication skills. Muha recalled a situation when Campus Town was in the process of being built and the construction crew hit a gas main, requiring the evacuation of the front half of campus, but Collins was “unflappable,” Muha said. 

Tim Grant, Collins’ successor, remembers the chief as his strongest mentor who had a profound influence on his career. Grant said that without the mentorship of Collins, he would not have been ready to take on the position of chief. 

“He had the ability to connect with everyone on a human level and reduced police work to its simplest terms,” Grant said. “‘We are here to help,’ he would always say.”

Collins held dedication in his heart to the traditions of police work and saving lives throughout his entire life, giving a commencement speech for Kean University to provide a voice to those who lost their lives. For the past 50 years, he and his father, who was also a Port Authority Police Officer, marched in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade — a tradition that Collins passed on to his sons. Each year on Sept. 11, he reunited with a group of fellow first responders who were part of the search and recovery effort at Ground Zero. 

Collins will be remembered as a consummate professional who was highly respected by virtually everyone, as well as a friendly face among students, faculty and staff.

“I always addressed him as ‘chief’ out of respect for him and his position, which comes with incredible responsibility,” Muha said. “He pulled me aside one day and said, ‘Dave, you have to stop calling me that.’ He never wanted to be put on a pedestal. He was the most unassuming person you could know.”

There will be two celebrations in honor of Chief Collins’ life. The first will take place in Florida on May 8 from 2-5 p.m. at Hiers-Baxley Funeral Services, 3975 Wedgewood Lane, The Villages. The second will be held in New York on May 30 from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. at Colonial Funeral Home, 2819 Hylan Boulevard, Staten Island. A funeral mass is scheduled for 10 a.m. on May 31 at St. Ann’s Catholic Church, 101 Cromwell Avenue, Staten Island. 




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