Agency History

A HISTORY OF SERVICE – For nearly 200 Years.

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In each of the 21 Counties in New Jersey there is a Prosecutor’s Office which serves as the Chief Law Enforcement Agency for that county. The “Prosecutor” is appointed by the Governor for a term of 5 years. The Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office serves its approximate 157,000 citizens with honor and pride. This service is steeped in deep history.

Cumberland County History

The Colonial Legislature, at a session held January 30, 1748, passed an Act stipulating the east side of Salem County as a new county to be known as Cumberland. It was so named by Governor Jonathan Belcher in honor of his patron, William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, brother of the king and the victor over “Bonnie Prince Charles”, (Stuart) the Young Pretender to the throne of England whose hopes were quenched at the bloody Battle of Culloden Moor.

The Act establishing the new county divided it into six townships: Greenwich, Hopewell, Stow Creek, Deerfield, Fairfield and Maurice River. The Legislature ordered the Freeholders to meet first at Cohansey Bridge, which is now Bridgeton, to arrange for the taking of a poll to determine the location of the county seat. The first court was held at Greenwich. In December of the same year, 1748, Cohansey Bridge (now Bridgeton) was chosen as the seat of county government. The selection was a compromise with Greenwich, Fairfield, and Deerfield contending for the honor, the convenience, and the practical advantage from a business standpoint.

In 1752, Cumberland County’s first court house, (Cumberland has had four) was built in the center of what is now West Broad Street, east of the line of Franklin Street. During the next 15 years Cumberland County developed rapidly. At the same time dissatisfaction over Colonial rule was increasing, a feeling that brought about eventual separation from the British Crown. In 1772, Cumberland County elected two representatives to the Colonial Legislature. Theretofore, Salem and Cumberland had been jointly represented. When Downe Township was established in 1772, it was named after Governor William Franklin’s wife, Elizabeth Downes, whose name was misspelled in the printed legislation and has been misspelled ever since.

New Jersey Prosecutor’s Office’s Are Born

During the 1700s there were very few lawyers. Most people went to court unrepresented and were subject only to the judge and jury. Prosecuting officers were employees of the court whose primary duties were to draft indictments and send them to the grand jury.

The position of Prosecutor of the Pleas was established in 1822 when the 47th General Assembly of the State of New Jersey passed “An Act Respecting Deputies to the Attorney General”. Each county had a Prosecutor of the Pleas appointed by the Court of Quarter Sessions once every five years.

The title “Prosecutor of the Pleas” remained the same until 1948 when a statutory change (N.J.S.A. 2A:158-2) dictated that, “In any statute in which the designation Prosecutor of the Pleas is used, it shall be continued to mean the County Prosecutor.”

During the nineteenth century the Prosecutor of the Pleas handled prosecutions ranging in severity from the theft of corn and illegal liquor sales to murder and robbery. By the middle of the twentieth century, increasing emphasis was placed upon the morality crimes of gambling and prostitution. In the mid-1900s legislative changes to the criminal laws reclassified many criminal offenses. This generally left the more serious crimes for the attention of the County Prosecutor and the lesser crimes to the municipal courts.

History of the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office

CCPO historic display located in lobby.

J. Hampton Fithian served as the Prosecutor of the Pleas for Cumberland County in the late 19th Century. Since his service, there have  been 15 County Prosecutors to serve Cumberland County. Up until 1980, the position of Cumberland County Prosecutor was a part-time appointment. The appointment of Prosecutor Kenneth Pagliughi was the first for a full time Cumberland County Prosecutor and staff. This marked the modern era of the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office (CCPO).

Starting in 1980 with a minimal staff of Assistant Prosecutors, Detectives and support staff, in a small office located at 43 Fayette Street in the City of Bridgeton, the CCPO has made many changes. Today the CCPO serves the public and its law enforcement partners with a staff of over 100 members. The main office is now located in a state of the art facility (the historically restored “Vine Street School”) at 115 Vine Street, Bridgeton, NJ.  as well as satellite locations.

Serve.   Protect.   Educate.   Empower.  is the motto of the CCPO. This service is provided in many forms to include aggressive prosecution of offenders, thorough investigation of criminal matters, community outreach, victim advocacy and law enforcement oversight. To accomplish these goals, the CCPO has several divisions within the office that serve numerous functions. The Criminal Investigation Division is staffed with more than 40 sworn police officers/detectives who aggressively investigate crimes and matters that range from homicides, sexual offenses, political corruption, gangs, weapons trafficking and narcotics to name a few. The Prosecution Division is staffed with 30 Assistant Prosecutors (attorneys) who prosecute indictable crimes in the Superior Court.  In addition, there is a full staff of highly trained Victim/Witness Advocates who communicate with victims to address their concerns and help them navigate the justice system. And lastly, there is a large support staff that work hand in hand with the officers, detectives and Assistant Prosecutor’s on a daily basis.

The CCPO and Cumberland County are rich in history. The CCPO in particular has been serving its public and law enforcement partners with distinction for well over 100 years. The CCPO is committed to continuing this service well into the future.

Reference thanks: MCPO and the County of Cumberland

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