Dr. Thomas Shea was awarded the Distinguished Alumni award during this year’s commencement. After spending twenty years in the Long Branch Police Force, serving as a Marine Corps veteran, and working as an Assistant and Adjunct Professor for three separate universities, he is someone who understands the importance of perseverance, integrity, and determination. He is headstrong and determined, a leader not only to his family, but to the students and communities he has come across over the years. While it seems like he had his fair share of successes in life, he is not afraid to admit he has made a few mistakes along the way too. It is these mistakes that have led him to becoming the person he is today.
If there is anything that Dr. Shea wants people to know about what he stands for, the path to success is all about the grind. For him, this was something that took quite a bit to learn. When he was eighteen, he was not sure of the path he should take. Graduating in the lower portion of his class, he had no clue or direction regarding his next steps. Not thinking that college was an option, he decided to enlist. “I enlisted in the Marines in the hopes that it would take me away from my friends who a lot of them ended up being drug addicts or alcoholics, or who wound up going to jail… There was this part of me that knew I had enough intelligence to do something different with my life, but I just did not know what that was at this time.”
Dr. Shea was sent overseas to Kuwait, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia – seeing firsthand the brutality of war. Seeing how fragile life can be, he felt as if he instantly grew up overnight. “I was a nineteen year old witnessing death and destruction for the first time – and I was not even fully formed yet mentally and physically. But it was there that something really clicked. I began saying to myself, ‘okay, you see how fast life can be taken away, it’s time to take pride in your life.’ I was a kid with no direction, and being stationed triggered the discipline that I needed to do just that.” He initially came back to the States with the plan of graduating from Brookdale, transferring to an Officer Training Candidate School after. However, he was activated for Desert Storm, deciding after that he was done with the military. It was time to do something different.
“I came back to the United States, started working a full-time job, and started attending night classes Monday through Thursday at Brookdale – my whole weekend was spent working on papers and school work.” he says in discussing his time at Brookdale, sharing fond memories of Professor Gregg Higgin’s class. “I was not a traditional student by any means. I have never been so tired – but I was there to just achieve that goal of getting a degree and doing something more with my life.” Thankfully for him, the idea to also join the police force came shortly after.
“I felt like I was moving a million miles an hour during this time – I needed to keep moving, keep moving with that drive. I learned from a friend I made in Saudi Arabia that he joined the NYPD, and to me, it seemed fascinating. I joined the force in 1997 with Veteran’s Preference… I got a 2 call to interview with the Long Branch Police Force and started the Police Academy shortly after.” During this, Dr. Shea began seeing a huge change in how he approached life. He was witnessing firsthand human fallibility, emotion, and evilness – looking at vulnerability in ways he never imagined. These experiences led him on the path of developing a better understanding of people. He was becoming increasingly aware of issues of ethics and integrity within the force.
Soon enough, Dr. Shea started keeping a journal, logging different successes and failures of leadership within the department and complaints he learned from the community. This practice especially became important as he was promoted to Internal Affairs Commander. This journal also inspired him to write a handbook on better practices within policing and leadership, 115 Proven Ways to Dramatically Improve Your Agency, Your Officers and Your Leadership, which was published in the summer of 2020. The observations present in the book act as guidance for those who want to create a positive change within their police department. Nowadays, Dr. Shea is the Program Director of the Police Graduate Studies Program at Seton Hall University. He eagerly and wholeheartedly awaits for his next move, letting his driven spirit guide him on his way. Everyday, he is open to the world around him, always trying to learn something new from the people and communities he interacts with. But he certainly would not have it any other way.