Highlighting acts of bravery, heroism and diligence performed by North Bergen Police Officers and recognizing the department’s commitment to community engagement and diversity, Mayor Nick Sacco and the township celebrated national “Law Enforcement Appreciation Day” with a ceremony today. Police Chief Robert Dowd served as master of ceremonies and presided as several proclamations and awards were distributed to highly deserving officers, including the department’s “Officer of the Year,” at the event which was held in the township’s commission chambers in front of local officials, members of the police department, friends and family members.
“The men and women of the North Bergen Police Department work extraordinarily hard each and every day, putting their lives on the line to keep all of us safe,” said Mayor Sacco. “It is only fitting to honor their dedication in a ceremony like this and they deserve every award they have been given and more for their outstanding work.”
During the ceremony Mayor Sacco and Chief Dowd presented four awards – two for specific incidents where NBPD officers excelled, one honoring an NBPD unit and one for the 2014 Officer of the Year.
“In 2014, North Bergen Police Officers responded to over 100,000 calls for police service,” said Chief Dowd. “The dedicated men and women of the North Bergen Police Department work tirelessly in an effort to reduce crime in our township and are encouraged to cultivate a partnership with the community we serve. I am so proud of the exceptional performance of not only the officers we recognized today, but of our entire department.”
In addition to the awards, the ceremony also served to highlight the NBPD’s commitment to community engagement and diversity, which according to Chief Dowd plays a major role in maintaining public safety in the township. The department participates in outreach programs such as National Night Out Against Crime and community events like Winterfest that allow officers to interact with residents in a celebratory atmosphere, establishing relationships and stronger ties. Meanwhile, the department’s resident-only hiring policy which was implemented by Mayor Sacco has helped it to become truly representative of the North Bergen community, with over 60% of officers being Hispanic in addition to over 12% of the department being women, which is higher than the national average.
“Making sure that our police force is representative of our community has been a major focus and it has resulted in a more responsive, effective department,” said Mayor Sacco. “A diverse police force allows residents to be more comfortable with law enforcement, eliminates language barriers and fosters a sense of community pride by giving all of our children the opportunity to look up to police officers who come from similar backgrounds.”
The first award was presented to Police Officers Santos Benitez, Hector Rosa and Brian Himsel. On September 10, 2014, the officers responded to a 911 call of a two year old child who fell in a swimming pool. Upon arrival officers found the child in a lifeless state. The officers performed CPR which ultimately led to the child regaining consciousness during transport to the hospital. The child, Otton Cedeno, made a full recovery. Otton and his mother, Jennifer Cedeno were both present during the ceremony.
The second award was presented to Sgt. David Dowd, Det. Roberto Maldonado, Det. Victor Queiro, Inv. Hector Botello and Inv. Carmen Recinos, all of the department’s Major Case Unit, for their role in aggressively investigating and later locating the perpetrator of the hit and run accident on Kennedy Boulevard that resulted in the death of Michael Viruet and serious injuries to his brother Adrian. Working cooperatively with investigators from the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office, Federal Bureau of Investigations and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the officers located the perpetrator in Maryland and apprehended him before later interviewing the actor and obtaining a meticulous and comprehensive confession. Mayor Nicholas J. Sacco presented a check for $500 on behalf of his foundation (Nicholas J. Sacco Foundation) to Michael Viruet Sr., father of the two victims.
The unit award was presented to the NBPD’s Narcotics Unit, which has seized over a million dollars’ worth of illegal narcotics and thousands of dollars in cash from drug dealers since its inception in 2012.
Det. Roberto Maldonado was unanimously chosen by the North Bergen Police Department Command Staff as the 2014 Officer of the Year and presented with the award. Det. Maldonado, a 19-year veteran of the NBPD, is the senior detective in the Major Case Unit and is responsible for numerous felony arrests including aggravated assault, armed robbery, burglary, theft, arson and death by auto.
Also in attendance were Freeholder Anthony Vainieri, Hudson County Sheriff Frank Schillari, Commissioners Hugo Cabrera, Allen Pascual and Frank Gargiulo, Board of Education President Julio Marenco, Superintendent of Schools Dr. George J. Solter, Township Administrator Chris Pianese and Township Attorney Tom Kobin. Special mention was also given to Public Safety Commissioner Theresa Ferraro, who was unable to attend the ceremony due to injury.