North Bergen takes pride in residents-only police force

Five new officers hired
Photo by Art Schwartz.
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Photo by Art Schwartz.

On January 4, five new police officers were sworn into the North Bergen Police Department.

Christopher Arce, Erick Rodriguez, Jorge Palaguachi, Julio Noriega, and Mayo Diaz took their oaths at Borough Hall. They will be headed to Bergen County Police Academy later in January.

Prior to being appointed, some of the officers held positions as dispatch specialists for the town or as corrections officers, according to Deputy Chief Peter Fasilis.

“Thirty years ago, we only had two police cars for 79 officers,” Mayor Nicholas Sacco said at the ceremony. If they want to maintain high standards, he said, “We’re going to have to keep our department as strong as possible. This is what makes the community as strong as it is.”

Keeping it local

All five of the new hires are North Bergen residents, in accordance with the residents-only hiring policy the department has continued since its inception in 1976.

The policy is widely supported by the police and the public. Some departments in the state do have residency preferences or short-term residency requirements. While residents-only policies are often seen in larger metropolitan cities,  they’re very rarely practiced in towns with populations comparable to that of North Bergen.

According to Public Safety Commissioner Allen Pascual, North Bergen’s police force is becoming more representative of the township as more hires join the department’s ranks.

“Officers who are North Bergen residents will have a more vested interest in the community, and personally know residents to a certain extent.” — Allen Pascual

“Demographically, 60 percent of the department is people of Hispanic or Latino origin, which is close to mirroring our town’s demographic makeup.” Pascual said. “Eventually, the department will be fully representative through new additions.”

According to the 2010 Census, North Bergen’s residents are 68 percent Hispanic or Latino.
“Officers who are North Bergen residents will have a more vested interest in the community, and personally know residents to a certain extent,” Pascual said. “Studies out there show that there’s a provable disconnect  and increase in issues in police departments that don’t reflect the makeup of their communities.”

Public-police relationship 

Fasilis said the residents-only policy expedites a number of police practices.

“We’re able to network at a local level and get a better sense of community issues just through talking to our neighbors,” Fasilis said. “New hires have friends already in the department. We also have a majority Spanish-speaking population, and this resolves any kind of communication issue.”

The policy also helps police brass to vet new prospects.

“This policy is critical to our extremely thorough background check process,” Fasilis said. “We can have thorough interviews with their neighbors, or anyone in the community they know. There are only a few degrees of separation between one of our officers and any North Bergen resident.”

Mike Montemarano can be reached at mmontemarano@hudsonreporter.com