For nearly five years, a hiring freeze was placed upon the North Bergen Police Department because of a lawsuit filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) that said the township was not hiring enough new minority officers, particularly African-American officers. The uncertainty of the hiring process dropped the total number of the force below 100 for the first time in recent history. It sent the entire department into a temporary holding pattern. Since the lawsuit was finally settled earlier this year, the powers-that-be in the township have begun the necessary steps to bring the force to its full working capacity. The first step was taken last week when four new officers were hired and immediately sworn into active duty. They were approved by the township's department of personnel as an emergency hiring. The four currently have temporary status, but will become permanent members of the department some time next month. At that time, 20 more officers will be hired and sent to the Bergen County Police Academy for training and will become full-time members of the force in January, 2001. When the hiring process is finally completed, the department will be back to its capacity of 120 members. As part of the settlement with the NAACP suit, the new officers were selected from the top of the Jersey City hiring list. However, none of the four is African-American. The hiring the four new police officers could not have come at a better time, considering that the OpSail 2000 is set to begin this weekend with the majority of the activity set to take place along the Hudson River waterfront on the Fourth of July, which falls on Tuesday. Experienced officers
The four hired officers, namely 24-year-old Ruben Gonzalez, 26-year-old Anthony Tedesco, 29-year-old Francisco Ponce and 31-year-old Marco Rovelo, come with recent law enforcement experience. Three of the officers, Gonzalez, Ponce and Rovelo, were active Hudson County Sheriff's Officers. Tedesco was a corrections officer, but all four, who are Jersey City natives, had previously completed the required 20-week certified police training that enables them to start as regular members of the North Bergen force immediately. "Being undermanned the way we have been has put a tremendous burden on every single member of the department," North Bergen Police Chief Angelo Busacco said. "Our members had been filling different roles, like patrol and support services. So it's been extremely tough on all of us. We're very pleased to be able to get these four officers right now and will add the other 20 as soon as possible. We wanted to have all 24 new officers on the force in time for OpSail, but we'll gladly take these four right now. With the OpSail, these four will get their baptism under fire, then they will be assigned to regular patrol duty." Because the four officers did not require extensive training, their hiring brings a saving of approximately $6,000 to the township in terms of the training costs and the costs of the psychological and medical exams. Also, because of their past experience, they will begin at an annual salary of $25,000 per year, as opposed to the $22,000 given to officers in training. The officers were officially sworn in last week, participated in training within the department and learned the rules and regulations. Some of the newcomers were just getting familiar with the 5.4-square mile territory. "It's a lot bigger than I thought," said new recruit Tedesco, a former standout three-sport (soccer, football and baseball) athlete at Marist High School. "We used to play a lot of games up in North Hudson Braddock Park and with the sheriff's office. I was stationed in Braddock Park, so I was a little familiar with North Bergen. But it's a lot bigger than what I expected. It should be interesting." The opportunity in the township came as a complete surprise to Tedesco, who was expecting to wait out another year on the Jersey City list - with no prospects of future employment, considering the city's fiscal woes. "It's a great career opportunity for me," said Tedesco, who was working at the state correctional facility in Avenel before being hired by North Bergen. "I'm able to start right away on the street and not a lot of officers get that chance. I've been waiting for this opportunity to get hired for quite some time." Tedesco comes from a family of police officers, with two uncles as members of the Jersey City force. "I saw how much my family and some friends liked being police officers, so I wanted the same," Tedesco said. "This definitely came unexpected for me and was a blessing in disguise. Who knows the next time that Jersey City will hire? It's such a relief for me." It's also a relief to the superior officers. "Without question, it's a blessing, especially now," Busacco said. "We're in the summer and officers are beginning to take vacations. We have the luxury to take these four officers and put them right out onto the street. That doesn't happen often."