|Raritan Police Chief Lorenzo "Renzi" Rossi |
He had his own Brand of Justice
Served on Police Force 1923-1967. Was Police Chief 1937-1967
|Anyone who lived in Raritan from 1923 to 1967 can tell you many stories about colorful Raritan Police Chief Lorenzo “Renzi” Rossi.
He was a police officer who had his own brand of justice which locals called “Renzi’s Law”. He set any potential juvenile offenders on the right path through his
concern and his firm but fair way of dealing with their youthful indiscretions. First, he would reason with the offender one on one. If that didn’t work, the next
step would be the application of “Renzi’s Law” consisting of a firm whack of the nightstick on the butt and delivering the offender to their parents to make them
aware of what had happened. In that era, the parents would often deliver their own justice which sometimes resulted in junior having trouble sitting for a few days.
Lorenzo Rossi was born in 1899 and lived in New York City when, as a teenager, the family moved to Raritan. They lived in houses on Second Avenue and Second Street. He met a local girl, Theresa Quelly, whom he would make his wife. As a young man, he worked at The Somerville Iron Works as a tin smith helper. An accident at work cut off two finger tips on his left hand. That convinced him that he did not want to spend his career in factory work. He approached the Raritan board of commissioners and expressed his interest in becoming a police officer. Town official Joseph Navatto was impressed with his enthusiasm and recommended him for the position of police officer. He was approved and joined the three member Raritan Police Dept. in 1923.
|In the 1920’s, police patrolled in a very different way than today. Patrolling was done by bicycle or foot patrol with no radio communication. By the 1930’s, motorcycles replaced the bicycles and foot patrol and in the 1940’s automobiles replaced the motorcycles and radio communication was begun.
Lorenzo “Renzi” Rossi established himself as a dedicated, caring patrolman who looked out for the kids. After 14 years as a patrolman, his fine record of achievement led to him being appointed the Raritan Police Chief in 1937, a position he would hold for the next 30 years. Even as police chief he patrolled the streets. There were only 3 police officers in town (until the late 1940s when a 4th was added). In a 1989 interview, Chief Rossi said it best about the kids who were causing trouble. “I used to give them a kick in the behind and take them home to their parents.”
John Pacifico recalled “If a kid did something bad and a resident complained, Chief Rossi was summoned. Upon arrival, he would assess the situation with the youth and the witnesses and either bring the kid to their parents or give the kid a stern warning not to do it again. Seldom was any teenager arrested or taken to court. The issue was dealt with on the spot. Sometimes that meant a swift kick in the butt, which was acceptable back then.”
|As one story goes, Rossi caught a kid throwing rocks at the windows of a home in town. He proceeded to take the kid to the front of his own home and give him a rock and ordered him to throw it at his own house. Fortunately, the father came out before any rocks were thrown, but Rossi’s point was well understood.
What did the parents of Raritan think of Police Chief Rossi? Today’s Mayor, Jo-Ann Liptak, (who never got in any trouble as a youth), says that the parents liked Rossi, they were very appreciative of him. They always thanked him for informing them of junior’s offensive behavior.
Raritan’s Peter Vitelli who grew up in the Rossi era recalled: “Lorenzo Rossi ruled with an iron hand, but not for personal gain. He cared about the people, especially the kids. He was beloved by the people and well respected.”
What motivated Rossi was his desire to do good for the kids. This expanded into charity work. When a local boy, Tony Vendula, needed special heart surgery at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, he raised $2500 so that he could have the surgery. He was also actively involved in the charitable work of the St. Rocco Society.
Chief Rossi retired in 1967. By the end of the 1960s the standards for police conduct had changed, and some new laws and court rulings brought into question Rossi’s tactics. However, an editorial from a program made for his retirement dinner summed up how the locals felt. For generations of Raritan youngsters, the strong arm of the law to them meant Chief “Renzi” Rossi. … Regardless of how those concerned with the protection of civil rights might regard Chief Rossi’s methods, the result was that any potential juvenile delinquents were returned to the straight and narrow.
|Lorenzo “Renzi” Rossi lived at 42 Second Street (currently occupied by Councilman Greg Lobell). Renzi and his wife Theresa had five children, three sons (Joseph, John, and Lorenzo Jr.) and two daughters (Marie Orlando and Lucille Deo). After retirement, he and his wife moved to Seaside in the early 1970s. Following his wife’s death, he moved back to Raritan in 1989 where he passed away on June 11th, 1991.
Lorenzo Rossi’s goal had been to make Raritan a safe place to live and to set kids who might be headed for trouble on the right path. Over the course of his 43 years as local policeman, he accomplished those goals with distinction. To honor his service, a street in Raritan “Renzi Road” is named after him.
While he is legendary in Raritan history, few pictures of him exist. This author, along with some Raritan seniors, could not locate any relatives. If anyone knows of a relative who could possibly help us locate photos and or articles about him, please email author Bruce Doorly at firstname.lastname@example.org.