A BET LAUNCHES A CAREER by Ellen Donker
Now Sally Reaves makes history
Sally Reaves is not one to turn down a challenge. Her friend Paulette, a corrections officer, found that out firsthand when in 2003 she bet Reaves $1,000 that she wouldn’t last one day at the Police Academy. They had been discussing Reaves’ next career move, away from healthcare, and Paulette encouraged her to take the civil service test, pointing out that the Orange Police were hiring.
After Reaves passed the test with flying colors, she thought long and hard about whether law enforcement was the right fit for her and if she was up to the demanding academic and physical training at the Police Academy. But it was also a chance to prove Paulette wrong.
In the end, Reaves figured the timing was right: she was 35, the last year she was eligible to attend the academy. So she signed up and lasted not just one day but the entire six-plus months of rigorous training. Upon graduating, Reaves launched her law enforcement career with the Orange Police.
Reflecting on that decision, she says, “You have to build your career, your future, your pensions and you have to say, ‘Okay…we’ve got to get a foundation where…this is it. This is where I’m going to retire.’” Reaves adds, “This is probably the best decision in my life, besides marrying my husband.”
In 2007, Reaves moved to the South Orange Police Department so she could connect better in a smaller community. She quickly became a valued member of the force. And now Reaves has made history: On June 14 she became the first woman in the South Orange Police Department to be promoted to supervisor.
Speaking at her promotion ceremony, which included village trustees, colleagues, friends and family, Acting Police Chief Stephen Dolinac said, “Officer Reaves, now Sergeant Reaves, will continue to live up to the ideals expressed in our mission statement – P.R.O.U.D. – professional, righteous, outstanding, understanding, and dedicated.”
When South Orange Village President Sheena Collum spoke, she recounted asking Reaves what quality or characteristic she thought is most important for someone in law enforcement. Reaves responded: “Empathy.” Collum said, “Sergeant Reeves, I will forever remember that answer. And it is a guiding light to me and my colleagues to know the caliber of candidates that we are promoting, and that share our values of what law enforcement can and should be like for all members of this community.”
Reaves explains that as an officer you have to “put your feet in other people’s shoes, because we never know what’s going on.” She adds, “Sometimes people just like to talk. And sometimes they’re not always looking for an answer. Sometimes they just like to vent.” She says when people thank her for listening, “That makes me proud. That makes me happy that I can just lend an ear and just say, ‘You know, I’m glad I can be of help.’”
To Reaves, law enforcement is an opportunity to fulfill her desire to help people, something she can trace back to her childhood. As the second youngest of eight children, she saw her single mother struggle to keep house while working two or three jobs. Reaves was the one in the family to volunteer to help, whether it was to do the laundry, wash the dishes, or cook. Her mother used to tell her, “You, I’m never going to have to worry about, because you are always that driven person and you’re always going to succeed. Anything you get involved in, you always do well.”
Being the responsible one growing up may be why Reaves sees the importance of being a role model for little girls, particularly in a male-dominated career. (South Orange has three female officers, including Reaves.) She says, “Hopefully I can have other females want to follow in my footsteps and say, ‘I can make Sergeant. I can be a supervisor; there’s room to grow.’”
Interestingly, Reaves inspired Detective Miguel Hunt to join the force when he was just 10 years old. As the instructor for the three years that Hunt attended the South Orange Junior Police Academy, he found his calling under her example. It wasn’t until they worked together years later that he found out just how tough Reaves is, saying that she doesn’t fear anything. Together they worked a lot of cases, some of which took down well-known gang members. Hunt says, “She’s a superwoman but also a sweet, generous soul. She’s so kind and treats everyone with the most respect. All around, she’s great.” He adds, “I was happy for her when she got promoted. She has all the characteristics of a leader.”
These days, Reaves works the night shift – 12 hours at a time – with four patrolmen and a dispatcher. On her days off, she attends to her other career – the Fashion Police, as she calls it – promoting the Sally Reaves Collection, which includes custom-made bow ties, pocket squares, ascots, and suspenders that she makes herself. It’s an outlet for her love of fashion, honed since her first job out of high school when she convinced her boss at the Rainbow Shop to let her dress the mannequins. It turned out that the items she used on the mannequins were the first to sell out, which led to her promotion to sales manager when she was just 18 years old.
Although Reaves has to wear a uniform to work, you can be sure that it is freshly pressed and that her boots are polished to a high shine. An aficionado of high-end fashion, Reaves’ friends at the Christian Dior store at the Short Hills Mall presented her with a plaque congratulating her on her promotion. On it was a drawing of her wearing one of its ready-to-wear ensembles along with a brooch displaying her new rank.
A few weeks after her promotion, Reaves celebrated her accomplishment in style with a party at Orange Lawn Tennis Club that was attended by her brothers and sisters and extended family members from out of state, as well as close friends. She was also sure to include officers who had been promoted at the beginning of the pandemic but had no opportunity to celebrate their milestones.
As for Reaves’ next steps, she plans to continue her upward trajectory, perhaps aiming for promotion to lieutenant, which entails preparing for and passing a rigorous test. And Paulette? It’s doubtful that she’ll challenge Reaves again. She paid every penny of her $1,000 bet, finding out that Reaves is indeed a serious contender. In return, Reaves says, “I owe her everything. I’m forever indebted to her.”
Ellen Donker feels fortunate to have attended Sergeant Reaves’ promotion ceremony and witnessed history in the making.