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Police chief started public service career at Magnet School

13 May 2024 · Joseph Bakes


Perth Amboy Chief of Police Lawrence Cattano. (Photo courtesy of the Perth Amboy Police Department)


Middlesex County Magnet Schools alum and Perth Amboy Chief of Police Lawrence Cattano began his public service career while still in high school.

“I got involved at a very young age,” he said. “I started riding in an ambulance at 14.”

A 1986 graduate of what was then Perth Amboy Tech, Cattano’s path to becoming chief in his hometown started when he was an electronics career major in a school quite different from today’s Perth Amboy Magnet School. For one thing, there were only about five girls enrolled.

Starting as a volunteer for the rescue squad, he became an emergency medical technician at 16 and then was a volunteer firefighter. His electrical training in high school led him to an interest in emergency radio wiring, eventually leading him to follow in his father’s footsteps into the police department.

“I just love what I do,” he said. “I wouldn’t change anything.”

He has been a paid police officer since 1991 after starting as a volunteer auxiliary officer in 1987. He became chief in 2022 after a year as acting chief. He now supervises a force of 145 officers, the largest number in the 305-year history of the department. Civilian staff bring the total under his supervision to 280 employees.

Other hats he has worn during his tenure include fire chief and director of emergency management, a position he still holds.

He said among the skills he learned in high school electronics classes that have served him well in his career were problem-solving and trouble-shooting.

“Police work is just another kind of problem-solving,” he said.

A trained EMT, he was often called in when there were accidents or illnesses involving his fellow students.

“I would be pulled out of class for emergencies,” he said.

After graduation he received additional training at Middlesex College, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and Thomas Edison College.

He said he thinks career and technical education in high school are important whether you eventually pursue the career path you studied, since it gives you skills you can use to earn money while pursuing further studies.

“It’s a great opportunity,” he said. “The thing I really like is that you rotate through the different majors when you start.

“I think it’s important that you can eventually go to college – you have the ability to work your way through college,” the chief said.

Cattano’s stepson, Nikolas Richie, is a 2018 graduate of Perth Amboy Magnet School who majored in computer assisted drafting and is now also a police officer.