The last day of Patrolman Robert Hand's watch was nearly 40 years ago today. A section of Springfield Avenue that runs by the municipal building bears his name, and you can see a painting of Hand near the entrance to the council chambers.
According to Chief of Police Eric Mason, the patrolman's accidental death while in pursuit of a suspect is one of the reasons why Cranford Police are not allowed to engage in high-speed chases.
There's a dedication page on the township's website that tells Hand's story. You can read some of it below.
Patrolman Robert F. Hand sacrificed his life protecting and serving the citizens of Cranford on February 11, 1975 following a motor vehicle pursuit.
At about 8:45 p.m. Patrolman Hand, a 19 year veteran with the Cranford Police Department, attempted to stop a vehicle driven by an 18 year old resident of Clark. The one mile car chase started on Walnut Avenue and continued into Clark.
At the intersection of Westfield and Branch Avenues in Clark Officer Hand swerved to avoid a vehicle coming into his path, causing the police car to leave the roadway and crash into the D&B Glass and Mirror storefront at the southwest corner. The suspect continued through Clark and was heading into Rahway where Rahway Police had set up a road block. He stopped and was arrested by Clark and Rahway Police officers.
According to the suspect statement, he panicked and led the officer on a chase into Clark. Witnesses stated that the suspect’s vehicle drove recklessly, forcing cars out of his way, constituting a hazard that Officer Hand was required to subdue. As a result of the crash, Officer Hand was taken to Rahway Hospital where he died at approximately 10:30 p.m. at the age of 45.
Patrolman Robert “Bobby” F. Hand was born in 1930 and was a native of Jersey City before moving to Cranford. He attended St. Benedict’s High School and in 1947 joined the United States Air Force, attaining the rank of Corporal and serving in the Korean Conflict. He received an Honorable Discharge in 1950. Robert was appointed to the Cranford Police Department on July 1, 1956 and was assigned to the Patrol Division. Hand received a number of commendations during his career. In August 1968 he was commended for breaking up a narcotics ring where 10 people were arrested. Rahway Police commended him in March 1969 for his help in the arrest of a child molester and Army deserter.
During his time with the police department, Patrolman Hand was affectionately nicknamed “The Senator” by fellow officers because he couldn’t walk more than a few blocks without stopping to greet a dozen people. He always took the time to stop and say hello to people. Bobby always put others needs before his own and was notorious for his willingness to help those in need.