If you’re a fan of the police blotter, you’ve doubtless seen the words “Officer Michael Slininger” in Robbinsville’s traffic stop arrests. Probably a lot.
In the almost five years Slininger has been in the Robbinsville Police’s traffic division, he’s made quite a name for himself collaring drunk drivers, traffickers of illegal substances, and others who should know better than to get behind the wheel.
In 2018, he made such a name for himself that the RPD named Slininger its officer of the year. The award was announced in early December and given to him later in the month. It surprised him, though his boss doesn’t think it should have.
“He’s everything we want our officers to be,” Chief Chris Nitti said. “He’s not only a great officer when it comes to making arrests, he brings that into the realm of community policing.”
It’s Slininger’s sense of empathy and compassion that makes him a great officer, Nitti said; the drive to part of a community solution.
“I think that gets lost sometimes,” he said. “We all got into this job to help other people.”
Nitti said Slininger needed to be recognized for more than just his record. Nevertheless, Slininger said it surprised him to get named officer of the year, if only because of the company he’s in.
“There are a lot of great guys,” he said. “I’m sure it was a tough decision because there are so many great officers.”
“Braggart” is definitely not a word that comes to mind speaking with Slininger. “Thoughtful,” though—that’s certainly something people would say about him. Nitti did.
“”He treats everyone with an air of respect,” Nitti said. So when it came time for the selection committee to vote on Slininger, it was a slam dunk. It was a unanimous decision, Nitti said.
Surprised or not, Slininger said he’s come a long way as a police officer. And there’s still so much in front of him. Slininger is only 27 years old—and 8 in cop years. A native of Brick, he started his law enforcement career in 2012 in one of the most Jersey ways possible: in the bike unit down the shore, in Point Pleasant.
He still lives in Brick, with his wife of three years—and high school sweetheart—Nicole. No kids yet, but they’re in the conversation, he said.
In 2014, Slininger got hired for the Robbinsville Police, but as a dispatcher. He liked the area and had applied for a patrol slot, but the department wasn’t hiring for that at that moment. So for six months, until a field position opened, Slininger “got a little experience” on the telephones, which are the usually first contact people have with emergency management.
Part of that little experience was coming to know just how tough a job dispatchers actually have.
“It’s really incredible what they have to deal with,” Slininger said.
On top of the minor calls, it’s a dispatcher’s job to talk to people who are, as Slininger put it, often having “the worst day of their lives.” Dispatchers need to get information from people who might not be communicating at their best, translate what it all means, and get it to an officer.
Then there’s the fact that Robbinsville is a regional 911 communications center, which means that any 911 call in the area goes through Robbinsville.
“When that happens, everything else has to stop,” Slininger said. “I give them an incredible amount of props.”
Companies like UPS are famous for not promoting workers until they spend some time doing every job in the organization. It makes them, so the sentiment goes, more empathetic to the various levels of workers. Slininger—who, for the record, has never worked for UPS—said his time in the dispatcher trenches achieved that same goal, by grounding him in what those officers do.
“Being on that side of it gave me a new appreciation for what goes into taking those calls,” he said. “When I’m on patrol, it makes me a little more patient.”
Patience came from his time in Point Pleasant Beach, too. There, patrolling the boardwalk, he often had to deal with revelers in various states of intoxication. It was something else that he said taught him the value of talking a problem through over wrestling a problem to the ground.
Slininger said he’s always had the drive to help people and serve the community. Being a police officer just seemed the most fitting extension of that for him; the place he felt he could do the most good. Before he decided on policing, he considered military service, like his brother. But he felt he could do more as a cop, and he’s the first in his family to go that route. His father is a refrigeration engineer and his mother is a secretary.
Slininger is very much about the holistic picture of what it means to be an officer in a community. That, and he likes what he calls the freedom of his job.
“Honestly, the main thing I like is that every day is different,” he said. “My office is the entire township.”
And like someone actually in an office, he likes to browse around a bit and get to know the people he works for.
“When I’m not answering calls, it’s really on me to go find trouble,” he said. “And to find someone who needs help.”
Eight years on the job has taught him about a certain gut instinct that helps in sniffing out that trouble. He said that people doing something wrong or who are hiding something tend to have telling body language or certain verbal tics that give them away. Those quirks tend to be slight and subtle, he said, but once you see them enough, you learn to read the signals that help get someone up to no good off the streets.
For now, Slininger is enjoying his time in the traffic enforcement unit, but he does indeed have higher aspirations.
“I do have an interest in moving up,” he said. “In the long term, I’d like to get into something supervisory. Or detective work.”