Richard Berdnik was sworn in as the 49th sheriff of Passaic County Monday evening.
"Though I consider today to be a new chapter in my life, it is a new evolution in my career," Berdnik said during his address to the more than 1,000 people who attended the inaugural ceremony at the Passaic County Technical Institute. "The sheriff's department is a great organization and I intend to make it better."
Berdnik made it clear that the safety of Passaic County residents is his first priority.
"The citizens deserve to be safe in their homes, in the courthouse, out in public, and on the Internet," Berdnik said.
Berdnik, a Clifton resident with 28 years of law enforcement experience, became a member of the Clifton Police Department in 1982. He was a patrol officer until 1987 when he was transferred to the tactical narcotics unit. He was promoted to sergeant in 1996 and to lieutenant in 2000. He has received training at the FBI National Academy. He is also a Eucharist minister at St. Andrew's Church in Clifton.
"My first swearing in was a significant milestone," Berdnik said to the audience. "The feeling I had almost three decades ago, I have today. It's a feeling of a new beginning. The desire to do a great job and make my family and friends proud is still part of me."
Berdnik defeated Republican Felix Garcia, a Wayne resident and former Passaic County Jail warden, by more than 14,000 votes in November to capture the highest law enforcement position in the county. His three-year term formally began Jan. 1.
Berdnik described his leadership style as one of "direct conversation." He said that he will not attempt to copy anyone else's leadership style.
"I plan on blazing my own path," Berdnik said. "I want to make this organization the gold standard of law enforcement in New Jersey and throughout our region."
But Berdnik's goal could be more difficult to achieve than he thought when he was elected in November. The department had to lay off 24 "at will" employees at the end of December, most of whom were hired by former Sheriff Jerry Speziale. Sheriff's department employees annual salary increases will be capped at 2 percent due to new legislation recently signed into law by Governor Chris Christie.
Berdnik's peers praised him for his work ethic and personal integrity.
"I literally put my life in Richard's hands years ago and I'm proud to say that I wouldn't hesitate today to put it in his hands again," said Gary Giardina, Clifton police chief. "I think that is the top compliment that one police officer can give to another."