North Bergen police tout low use-of-force rate

Officials point to 'resident-only' hiring policy

Chief Fasilis gives his department two thumbs up. Photo by Art Schwartz.
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Chief Fasilis gives his department two thumbs up. Photo by Art Schwartz.

New data released by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office shows that the North Bergen Police Department employed use of force at a lower rate than any other municipal police department in Hudson County last year.

According to the data, North Bergen’s rate was 6.0 percent, with just seven use-of-force reports filed between Oct. 1, 2020, and Feb. 28, 2021.

Mayor Nicholas Sacco and other officials celebrated the ranking as proof that its fostering of better police-community relations is succeeding and helping make residents safer.

“We’ve always known that our North Bergen Police Department is one of the most outstanding law enforcement agencies in the state, and this new set of data proves that our officers are not only keeping us safe from crime, they are doing it in a professional manner that shows restraint and respect,” Sacco said. “I commend Chief Peter Fasilis and his entire team for making this possible and thank them on behalf of our entire community.”

Building trust

Since taking office last year, Fasilis has instituted changes to improve the relationship between residents and officers and to reduce use of force. He’s emphasized de-escalation training, which encourages officers to handle tense encounters by talking rather than resorting to force. Officers are trained in interacting with people with mental health disabilities and in crisis de-escalation. Officers showing signs of stress are offered increased support.

“Building trust between our officers and the community we serve has never been more critical to our mission, so I could not be more proud of the men and women of the North Bergen Police Department who are truly living up to our values by limiting the use of force whenever possible,” Fasilis said. “I believe strongly that we are most effective when the residents know us, trust us, and believe we are here to protect them. Reducing use-of-force encounters helps build those relationships and makes our entire community safer.”

Hiring residents only

Fasilis cited the township’s longstanding “resident only” hiring policy in reducing use of force. Since Sacco and the commissioners instituted the policy mandating that new hires be residents, the department has become significantly more diverse and representative of North Bergen. Currently, 66 percent of NBPD officers are Hispanic, and 14 percent are women, The department includes several Arab American officers.

“The North Bergen Police Department is becoming a model for what a successful law enforcement agency should look like in 2021,” said Public Safety Commissioner Allen Pascual. “I want to thank Chief Fasilis and his command staff as well as the rank-and-file officers who are living up to their training and showing the restraint and professionalism needed to reduce harmful encounters.”

The department with the highest rate of use of force in Hudson County was Guttenberg with 38.5 percent with 12 reports, followed by Secaucus at 27 percent with 23 reports; West New York at 25.8 percent with 40 reports; Kearny at 25 percent with 32 reports; Union City at 24.1 percent with 48 reports; Bayonne at 23.9 percent with 77 reports’ Hoboken at 23.3 percent with 40 reports; Jersey City at 15.2 percent with 218 reports; Weehawken at 14.5 percent with nine reports; Harrison at 7.3 percent with four reports; and North Bergen at six  percent with seven reports. The only department with a lower rate of use of force was the Hudson County Sheriff’s Department with .4 percent, also making it the lowest in the state. 

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.