TOMS RIVER – If you know a police officer, you’ll know that they’re never really “off duty.” They are trained to pick up on potential problems before they become worse.
So it should come as no surprise to hear a story about how Capt. William Herkert was going for a jog one day when he heard a girl screaming and went off to find her. She had fallen through the ice at Winding River Park. He coached her to stay above the water and helped coordinate the rescue when other first responders came.
That was probably the most dramatic story that could be told about Herkert. However, friends and loved ones had plenty of stories about the lives he touched in his career. He passed away from cancer at 65.
“There were countless lives he impacted,” said one of his closest friends Steven Henry, Police Chief of Bristol Borough, PA. In addition to his job as an officer, he was also an instructor, so his positive impact is tenfold.
“He was the consummate professional. As a supervisor, he was always looking after his people,” he said. “He was a true gentleman. He never had a bad word to say about anybody.”
His positive attitude was infectious, and people had no idea that he was as sick as he was, he said.
“Billy had been fighting cancer for at least 17 years,” he said. “I’d been in touch with him non-stop. You would never know, if you talked to him, that he was on his 12th round of chemo.”
In addition to his dedication to his job, he was devoted to his family, Henry said. He had been chief of Lewistown, PA. He took a demotion from that job to be a deputy chief at the College of Charleston in South Carolina because it was close to his daughter and grandchildren.
Herkert helmed the Lewistown police department after its split from a regional department, according to the Lewistown Sentinel.
Sheriff Michael Mastronardy was chief of Toms River police when Herkert was a captain. He called him a dedicated professional with a great work ethic. He was scheduled at one point to go to the FBI Academy.
“He always maintained a positive attitude. Billy was just a good professional in law enforcement. He loved being a cop,” he said.
His loss has been hard on those who knew him, Mastronardy said. Even those who knew he was sick couldn’t conceive of him being that sick because of how upbeat and active he was.
Current Toms River Police Chief Mitch Little also noted his strength in the face of adversity.
“During his time here his true passion was investigations and solving crimes and ultimately was put in charge of the patrol division. He was a mentor to many officers and staff who also went on to achieve much success in their careers,” Little said. “He was taken far too soon after a long battle with cancer. Even at the time of his original diagnosis and numerous treatments, he remained positive and never complained about his situation despite the seriousness of his condition and the ordeal he was going through. He will be missed.”
Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden worked with Herkert in the Toms River Police Department.
“It was an honor to work with Bill at the Toms River Police Department,” Golden said on social media. “As he continued on to serve the public, it was great to visit with him on our family trips out to Penn State games while he was Chief of Police in Lewistown, PA and a teacher at (Penn State University).”
Golden’s son attends college where Herkert became the deputy and later interim chief, so the two had the opportunity to catch up with each other again. Golden called him a great mentor to his son and a tremendous help to his family.
The College of Charleston Department of Public Safety also released a statement of their own on social media on Chief Herkert’s passing.
“Chief Herkert dedicated multiple decades of his life to public service and law enforcement. He was a man of moral character and never hesitated to help others, having voluntarily come out of retirement on two separate occasions to heed the call for service,” they said. “His dedication to the job and his professionalism set a benchmark for others to follow. His leadership by example was exemplary. His presence and spirit are and will continue to be missed.”