By Tim Kelly
The year was 1985. Ronald Reagan was starting his second term as President, “Back to the Future” was the year’s highest grossing film, and Steve Ang was starting his career with the Ocean City Police Department.
Earlier this week Captain Ang, who will turn 60 in August, announced his immediate retirement.
“Thirty three years is a long time to be in any job, particularly in law enforcement,” he said on Tuesday. “It’s time.”
The reaction was swift and positive on the OCPD Facebook page. “(Ang is a) great person and I’m proud to have known him,” posted Susan Rumer-Peifer. “Family and community service. That’s Captain Ang,” said Joseph Sheppard.
“It’s a great feeling” to read such positive comments and so many of them, Ang said.
“Many people are proud of where they came from, but Ocean City is different. There’s a reason Ocean City is known as America’s Greatest Family Resort.”
When Ang started on the job, Ocean City was much different, as was police work. He turned in his first incident reports with the aid of a manual typewriter.
“Now we have portable radios, computers, computers in the patrol cars, body cams, and public cameras all over town,” he said. “Technology is definitely the biggest thing that has changed.”
During his three-plus decades on the force, there are no aspects of the department Ang hasn’t been a part of. Community policing, traffic safety, court liaison, and the Detective Bureau are among the areas to benefit from the Steve Ang touch.
For the last 10 years he served as the Department’s Public Information Officer. “I am thankful Chief (Chad) Callahan saw a need for this position and for us to be more transparent and to create this position.”
Changes in the media have moved as quickly as those in the world at large. In ’85, cable TV was in its infancy and Ocean City was a blip on the South Jersey media radar. Today, the internet and social media not only shine constant light on every conceivable issue in town, they do so in a way that often places the cops at a disadvantage.
“Today with social media, everyone has a voice and people are using it,” Ang said. “At the same time, police are not permitted to discuss ongoing investigations. There are (no such restrictions) on social media. As a result the story that gets out there many times is one-sided.”
This is not to suggest Ang holds animosity or deals with the media in an adversarial manner. Just the opposite.
“I have developed a better understanding of the media’s job. I have a lot of respect and admiration for people in the field,” he said. “They are under pressure to obtain information and to get it before the competition. Sometimes the stories and situations are delicate. As they pursue their work, the media people have treated me with the utmost courtesy and respect.”
Ang is a third generation lifelong Ocean City resident and a product of a family steeped in public service. His father, Thomas, who recently passed away, was a longtime member of the Ocean City Fire Department. His late brother, also named Tom, was a fulltime member of the Ocean City Rescue Squad.
He graduated from Ocean City High School and earned his criminal justice degree from Stockton University (then Stockton College). After taking the police civil service test, he got his chance to work in his hometown.
Then-Chief Dominic Longo and Mayor Jack Bittner gave him the opportunity to begin as a patrolman. His rise through the department was a rapid one, as he would eventually work under six more mayoral administrations including current Mayor Jay Gillian, and his father Roy.
Early in Ang’s tenure, Ocean City “was more diversified. There was a larger minority community and there were more large old homes with summer group rentals. Over the years, the real estate market changed (OC’s landscape),” he said.
And though known for its lack of serious crime, it does occur, just like everyplace else,” Ang said,
“We have homicides. We have bank robberies. We have sexual assaults, we have drug arrests,” he said, “but we are fortunate (they do not take place with the frequency or severity of other places).”
His secret to success: “Look at other members of the department who have done well and try to emulate them and learn from them.”
Ang is reluctant to name people who have mentored and helped him along the way, for fear of omitting someone. But he is quick to cite Ocean City’s “sense of community” as a big reason for his upward career trajectory.
“I have had a great career,” he said. “I have no regrets. I made it all the way to Captain, and the only position beyond that one is Chief, and only one person can be Chief.”
Despite all of his accomplishments, one case that has been open for nine years still haunts him: the disappearance of John Weisbecker in March of 2009. Weisbecker vanished from the house near 2nd and Asbury he shared with his mother and sister. Ang was actively involved in the investigation at the time of the Ocean City man’s disappearance, and he is frustrated there are still no clues or traces of Weisbecker’s whereabouts.
“You never want to see a case stay open for so long, but this one is more difficult because the family has never had the chance to find out what happened and to reach closure.”
In acknowledging the lingering disappointment with the Weisbecker case and the difficult sides to police work, Ang stressed the positives are what he will think back on the most.
Not one specific moment or closed case stands out over his career. Rather it’s the multitude of little things, he noted.
“Every day there are little things that are (positively impactful). Just helping people get through situations. I think almost every police officer experiences these things every day. It’s not rocket science. It’s respect, kindness and common sense.”
He said that his father’s death, Steve’s approaching 60th birthday and the retirement of some of his better friends in the department made him “think differently about life” and to begin a new chapter.
So what does the future hold for Steve Ang?
In the short term, he will relax and consider his next moves, and spend time with wife Donna. The couple has two adult children, Brittany and Steve.
“I’m excited to re-fire my life,” he said. “I’m not going to rule out anything that might lead to my next career.”