Combating teenage drug use and gang violence, being fiscally responsible, and communicating with county residents.
These are just some of the initiatives Sheriff Richard Berdnik has worked on since taking office in January. Berdnik met with members of the media Friday at his office in Wayne.
“I feel very confident that what I said I was going to do, I’ve done,” Berdnik said.
One initiative of Berdnik’s is to better utilize his office’s Submit a Tip service. Residents can visit a Web site and submit a crime tip to Berdnik’s office. They can also call a tip in 888-958-8477 or send a text to 274637.
“It’s about speaking to the community and getting information from them,” Berdnik said. “It’s so important that we get information from them. The input from the community guides us in what we need to do.”
Gathering intelligence on gang activities is an ongoing process. It requires his department, the County Prosecutor’s Office and the New Jersey State Police to work together.
“We have the ability to gain intelligence from within the Passaic County Jail. We have a gang unit in the jail,” Berdnik said. “It’s about sharing all the information and getting it into one database.”
His office is initiating a “community policing” approach to patrolling the streets for gang activity and crimes involving illegal narcotics. Placing more School Resource Officers (SROs) in high schools is an important aspect of curbing gang violence and recruitment.
“SROs are such an important part of the process,” Berdnik said. “Kids feel like they can communicate with the officer more as a friend rather than as an officer. We can see these kids as they grow up and develop a relationship with them.”
Parma parties are becoming more popular among teenagers. Children will take pills and prescription drugs they find at home, put them into a bowl, and take them at random. These must stop, Berdnik said.
Berdnik said his office is working to regionalize dispatch operations for municipalities who have requested help and transporting prisoners to the jail when possible to help municipalities save money and man-hours.
Since taking office in January, 100 positions in the sheriff’s department have been eliminated, mostly through attrition. Berdnik has a budget for 695 employees, which Berdnik said the department will “maintain.”
The department is continually working on upgrading the jail’s HVAC system due to a 2008 class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. Berdnik said the jail would introduce video conferencing “within the next six months.” Conferencing could be used for meetings with attorneys and inmate visits.
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 began Jan. 1.