For only the third time in nearly a quarter-century, the Union County Emergency Response Team (UCERT) has a new leader.
During a ceremony held last month at the John H. Stamler Police Academy in Scotch Plains, Union County Police Department Capt. Martin Mogensen transferred command of the elite task force to Union County Undersheriff Dennis Burke, previously UCERT’s Deputy Commander.
Mogensen, a founding member of the 27-year-old task force, will remain Commander of Patrol & Operations with the Union County Police Department after stepping down from his role as UCERT Commander, which he held for the last 11 years. Only the person he replaced in 2009, retired Fanwood Police Chief Donald Domanoski, served longer in that capacity, with a 13-year term of service.
UCERT is comprised of several dozen officers hand-selected to serve from among local police departments within Union County, as well as the Union County Sheriff’s Office, Union County Prosecutor’s Office, and Union County Police Department, all working under a regional command. The task force is divided into three unique teams: UCERT Civil Disorder, UCERT SWAT, and the New Jersey Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) Rapid Deployment Force (RDF).
“As Undersheriff Burke noted when he assumed command ‘the public calls the police, the police call UCERT,’” noted Acting Prosecutor Lyndsay V. Ruotolo, who is one of several county law enforcement executives who oversee UCERT. “Having seen both Captain Mogensen and Undersheriff Burke in action, I know firsthand how lucky the people of Union County are, and how much safer those in uniform are, because of these two men and the officers they lead. We as a county are grateful for the incredible service and leadership they provide to keep others safe.”
The task force is made up of sworn officers of varying ranks, as well as trained paramedics, a doctor, an assistant prosecutor, and a psychiatrist. The task force also includes a crisis negotiation squad that specializes in UCERT SWAT callouts; members of that team are trained for high-level, intensive emergency response situations, and work with many outside municipal, county, state, and federal agencies responding to high-risk search and arrest warrants, critical infrastructure incidents, hostage situations, and barricaded suspects. The SWAT Unit historically has been deployed several dozen times annually, on average.
In attendance at the ceremony was nearly the full UCERT complement, acting Prosecutor Ruotolo, as well as the two police chiefs’ liaisons to the task force, Springfield Police Chief John Cook and Berkeley Heights Police Chief John DiPasquale, President of the Union County Police Chiefs Association Chief Chris Debbie, Chiefs of Police Robert Weck of Summit and John Rodger of Rahway, and several retired members of UCERT among them Retired Captain James Russo of the Prosecutor’s Office.
UCERT has been steeped in various honors during Mogensen’s tenure as Commander. In 2014, for example, the Two Hundred Club of Union County honored members of UCERT SWAT at its 45th annual luncheon, for their roles in bringing a peaceful resolution to an eight-hour November 2013 standoff with a man later found to be in possession of 13 firearms at his home in Scotch Plains. The standoff, which resulted in nearby rail service being halted and nearby residents being barred from returning to their homes near the shooting scene, also involved an intense and prolonged exchange of gunfire between the suspect and police.
In 2018, nine members of UCERT were honored by the Union County Human Relations Commission with a Unity Achievement Award for their participation in aid deployment to Puerto Rico during the wake of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria in the fall of 2017. Under the command of Mogensen, the group engaged in two deployments to provide relief; coordinating with members of the New Jersey State Police, Puerto Rican State Police, and San Juan Police, they provided community outreach assistance, infrastructure protection, and traffic control points.
“We’re always ready to go out,” Mogensen told a local newspaper shortly after assuming command of UCERT in 2009 – a fact underscored when his first SWAT callout came just half an hour after he was sworn in. On that day, a 49-year-old man, who had made threats at a bar in Clark the night before, was found armed inside a home in Kenilworth. After negotiations, the man was taken into custody without incident and put under observation.
“After 27 years of being on call 24-7, 365 days a year, Capt. Mogensen has certainly earned a rest,” Union County Police Department Chief Chris Debbie said. “We are all fortunate that his knowledge and expertise will still be available, as he continues in his role of Patrol Commander here at the County Police.”
Undersheriff Burke joined the Union County Sheriff’s Office in 1995, and has worked in the Family Violence and Fugitive Units, as well as being assigned to the Union County Prosecutor’s Office Counter Terrorism Task Force, FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, and Union County Homeland Security Bureau. His 25-year career in law enforcement has featured a range of honors, as he is the recipient of the John H. Stamler Police Academy Class 74 Academic Achievement Award, as well as one Unit Commendation, three Distinguished Service Certificates, four Commendation Awards, and six Letters of Commendation.
Burke will remain Commander of the Fugitive, Family Violence, and Street Crime Units of the Sheriff’s Office.
“Undersheriff Burke is one of the top law enforcement minds in Union County,” Union County Sheriff Peter Corvelli said. “Members of the public can continue to rest easy knowing that UCERT and SWAT are in good hands, with him having taken over command.”