By Donald Wittkowski
Even as a rookie cop in Ocean City in 1995, Jay Prettyman had thoughts of one day becoming police chief.
On Thursday night, he got his wish when City Council approved Mayor Jay Gillian’s appointment of the 48-year-old Prettyman to head the Ocean City Police Department.
“It’s great. I feel I have been prepared most of my life for this,” Prettyman told reporters.
He started his law enforcement career serving as a summer police officer in Ocean City in 1992 and 1993. He worked as an officer in Haddon Heights, Camden County, from 1993 to 1995 before joining the Ocean City Police Department as a full-time patrolman in September 1995.
He worked his way through the ranks, becoming a sergeant, lieutenant, detective lieutenant and then captain in 2008. Most recently, he has served as acting police chief.
“Prettyman’s rank, education, experience and exemplary record of service within the department make him the ideal candidate,” Gillian said. “I’m confident he will continue Ocean City’s proud tradition of public safety.”
Members of City Council made similarly glowing statements about Prettyman’s career and reputation while congratulating him on his appointment to police chief.
Echoing comments by other members of the governing body, Councilman Keith Hartzell said Prettyman has been a key part of the police department’s high level of professionalism.
“You’ll always have our support up here,” Hartzell told Prettyman.
Prettyman holds a master’s degree in public safety from St. Joseph’s University and a bachelor’s degree in law and justice studies from Rowan University. He lives in Ocean City with his wife, Tiffany, and their daughters, Phoebe, 20, and Chloe, 16.
He followed his father, John N. Prettyman, into law enforcement. The elder Prettyman retired as deputy police chief in Voorhees Township, Camden County.
Prettyman takes charge on Feb. 1, the day after current Ocean City Police Chief Chad Callahan formally retires. Callahan has had a 25-year career and served as chief since 2008.
Callahan had been on extended leave since injuring his shoulder. In his absence, Prettyman was named acting police chief on Feb. 24, 2018.
“I am an extremely hard-working employee and an extremely loyal employee. At the end of the day, the hard work pays off,” Prettyman said of his patience while waiting for his formal appointment to the top job.
He steps in at a time when the police department is going through a major transition that includes the promotion of 10 officers last year and the hiring of 11 new officers since August 2017.
Moreover, the mayor and Council have spent the past two years exploring the possibility of building a new $17.5 million police headquarters to replace the city’s Public Safety Building, a former school more than 100 years old.
In an interview after the Council meeting Thursday, Prettyman made it clear that he hopes the city builds a new police station. He noted that the antiquated existing building leaks during storms, forcing employees to break out buckets to catch the rainwater. It also includes an outmoded cell block dating to the early 1970s.
“Our building now is in various stages of disrepair,” Prettyman said.
Praising his predecessor, Prettyman said he doesn’t plan to undertake a major restructuring or any major reforms in the department, but would like to finish some of the initiatives that he and Callahan had started, including a greater emphasis on community policing.
“I can honestly say that Chad and I ran the police department together. We started a lot of programs together,” he said.
As chief, Prettyman leads a department with 60 full-time officers and an annual budget of about $8.5 million.
His salary is currently under negotiation. Local ordinance caps the salary range for police chief at $160,000 annually.