Ringwood P.D. appoints Thomas an honorary SPO
Ringwood P.D. appoints Thomas an honorary SPO
For lifelong resident Marisa Thomas, 2015 has been a banner year. After graduating from the Passaic County Sheriff Department’s Junior Police Academy over the summer, she decided to dress up as a police officer for Halloween. Now, the 26-year-old Thomas no longer has to pretend she is a member of the law-enforcement community, because she has been made an honorary special police officer in the town that has always been her home.
During a ceremony honoring Thomas at the Dec. 17 meeting of the Borough Council, Police Chief Joseph Walker explained how the appointment came to pass with assistance from retired Ringwood Police Sgt. Robert Anderson.
“We’ve all known Marisa for years,” Walker said. “When Bob called to tell me she was going trick or treating as a police officer, he asked if I had any accessories for her.”
Walker was able to come up with a badge and patch for Thomas, who has multiple disabilities, to wear with her costume. She was so excited that she immediately posted the items on her Facebook page. The chief was so moved by the young woman’s enthusiasm, he decided to ask Borough Manager Scott Heck if the council would consider making her the department’s first female honorary special police officer. When Heck and the council agreed, Walker enlisted the help of others in the community. Maryann Brennan tailored a special blue shirt for the occasion, MBM Specialty Advertising donated the hat, and Sylvia Nieves helped create the documents securing SPO Thomas’ position.
As Thomas’ father Gary steered her wheelchair through the council chambers, Deputy Mayor John Speer read the proclamation recognizing her as “an advocate for severely medically fragile people with developmental disabilities in New Jersey.”
Already wearing her shirt, Thomas was given an official police hat, badge and identification wallet to round out her uniform. Officer Matt Ferraro presented her with a T-shirt from the Police Benevolent Association Local 247 and a certificate recognizing her as a member of the PBA. Heck said it was “a pleasure to do this for Marisa.”
Thomas is well-known in the Cupsaw Lake and Kensington Woods neighborhoods of the borough, where she can often be seen patrolling the streets in her wheelchair stroller, according to mom Linda Zani Thomas. She also enjoys regular visits to the grounds around Skylands Manor. Her parents estimate that Thomas has logged 25,000 miles of Ringwood roads over the course of her residency.
“She’s worn out at least eight wheelchairs and four jogging strollers,” her mom said.
A turning point for Thomas came in July, when she joined eight fellow students from Red Ribbon Academy in Wayne at the Junior Police Academy. Detective SaraAdele Higgins of the Passaic County Sheriff Department said that Thomas made a real impression on her.
“It was an amazing experience having Marisa and her friends on my squad at the academy,” Higgins said. “We had a lot of fun together.”
Higgins, a Wanaque resident, struggled to find the right words to describe the way the young woman made her feel.
“She has an unbelievable way of making you want to be a better person,” Higgins said. “She wants to be a part of everything life has to offer.”
Although Thomas has limited spoken language, Higgins said that she is perfectly capable of making herself understood regularly.
“It’s amazing the way Marisa interacts with other people,” she said.
When Thomas’ mother sent Higgins a photo of her daughter in her Halloween outfit with the message, “she wants to be your hero,” the detective nearly broke down with joy.
“I was so touched,” she said. “We should all feel something like that.”
From time to time, Thomas can be found outside Ringwood participating in various public events, including victory parades in Manhattan for the Yankees and Giants. On one occasion, she was permitted to lower the American flag at sunset at the southern end of Cape May. She has also been active locally, performing with her friend Moe at the St. Catherine of Bologna Art Show, participating in fellow Ringwood resident George Martin’s “Journey for 9/11” commemorative walk.
Martin, a former NFL football player, said in a Dec. 18 statement that he was “profoundly proud” to learn that his friend and neighbor was being honored by the Police Department. He recognized Marisa, Gary and Linda as long-term supporters of notable local charities including his annual “Journey for 9/11” fundraiser.
“Marisa and her wonderful parents are the unsung heroes of our close-knit community,” Martin said while wishing the entire family hearty congratulations.
At the close of the ceremony on Dec. 17, Gary Thomas thanked Chief Walker, the council members, and the entire police force for being so considerate on his daughter’s behalf.
From Chief Walker’s perspective, the honor was all his.
“This is inspiration right here,” he said.