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ABCs of Passaic


All classes of uniform make the grade at the Passaic County Sherriff’s Department

By Larry Berstein

Passaic County is in the northeastern part of New Jersey. The county is made up of 16 municipalities and spread out over nearly 200 square miles. Passaic County has a population of over 500,000 people, with Patterson holding the largest population as well as being the seat of the county. While there are a number of urban towns with mainly working class people in the area, Passaic County also is home to thousands of acres of park land and multiple sites of higher education.

The Passaic County Sheriff’s Department keeps the area safe and secure. Sheriff Richard H. Berdnik and his staff are responsible for various law enforcement functions throughout Passaic County including county patrol, crime scene investigation, SWAT and K-9 functions, the operation of the Passaic County Jail and the security of county facilities, including the Passaic County Courthouse and Administration Complex.

passaic2It’s 9 a.m., and Chief William McCrary of the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department is at lineup. Chief McCrary, who has jurisdiction over the courthouse, is inspecting the officers’ uniforms. Uniforms must be clean, properly fitting and well maintained with the goal that each officer presents a professional appearance. It’s an aspect of the job that Chief McCrary takes very seriously, as maintaining a professional appearance is something he learned about many years ago.

While serving in the United States Marine Corps in the 1980s, Chief McCrary was taught a lesson from his drill instructor that he carries to this day: “You can go a long way with a shiny pair of shoes.” It might be this lesson that caused Chief McCrary to be described as “dapper” by Sheriff Berdnik. So when Chief McCrary inspects uniforms, he has high expectations.

Officers in the Passaic County Sheriff’s department are required to have three uniforms – Class A, B and C. The Class A uniform is a dress uniform and is worn at formal ceremonies such as funerals, graduations and promotions. It is worn as directed by the administration. The components of the Class A uniform include everything from the Class B uniform with the addition of a dress blouse, Sam Browne cross strap, trooper-style hat and white gloves.

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The Class B uniform is for everyday wear and is worn by a number of divisions including the courthouse, civil process, patrol and transportation divisions. The Class B uniform begins with a solid dark blue shirt (or optional white shirt for lieutenants or above), black t-shirt worn under the solid dark blue shirt (or white t-shirt when utilizing white uniform shirts in place of the blue shirt), a black clip-on tie and solid dark blue pants with a one-and-a-half inch gold stripe on each leg. The uniforms must also include various patches such as the specialized unit, hash marks for each three years of service, a name plate, lapel pins according to rank and assignment, jackets, hats and footwear.

The Class C uniform takes many forms depending on the officer’s specific unit. The Class C “utility uniform” is worn by three divisions – Jail, Extra Duty traffic details, and Mounted Squad & Motorcycles.

A number of units have the option to wear the Class C “daily uniform.” These units include CSI, Evidence, School Resource, Community Policing, Gang Intelligence Unit, BCI, IT and the Classification Unit. This uniform consists of a polo shirt and BDU pants. BDU pants are tactical cargo pants that are made of a tougher material that is resilient and not as susceptible to wear and tear. Officers who may have to crawl on the ground with a suspect can feel more confident that their BDU pants will be able to withstand rugged use. The BDU pants also contain extra pockets that can be used as needed. The CSI and Evidence units have an optional sweatshirt they may wear over or in place of the polo.

passaic3Two of the units – School Resource and Community Policing – wear a powder blue polo shirt. These two units have the most interaction with the public, and the color choice was made with that in mind.

McCrary is well aware of the wary attitude that some people feel toward law enforcement these days. “Some people see cops as robotic, programmed and out of touch.” One way to ease distrust and break down barriers is through the uniforms and the messages they convey. Chief McCrary says, “It’s a softer color and makes someone more approachable and stands out in a crowd setting.” The public admires the uniform and regularly compliments it, according to Chief McCrary.

Some of the other units noted above, including the Gang Intelligence Unit, wear a black polo shirt and black BDU pants. This color choice is also intentional as black is felt to convey a sense of authority and seriousness. CSI wears darker blue as they are dealing with chemicals and powders.

Chief McCrary believes the uniform looks professional, sets a tone and conveys an air of authority. The chief adds, “They are a really good reflection on the office.”

Sheriff Berdnik adds that an officer is taught in the academy about a command presence and that an impression is made in the first 10 to 15 seconds of police interaction. “If someone presents themselves well, it sets a positive and professional tone and represents the department well.”

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The sheriff’s department has the worn the same uniforms for a number of years. However, one relatively new change in uniform was established by Sheriff Berdnik. He changed the design of the badge and added the U.S. flag to the uniform, sewn on the right sleeve. Regarding the addition of the flag, Sheriff Berdnik says, “We have a great country, and the department should be proud to wear it.”

Once an officer is hired, they are told of the uniform requirements. The new employee is given a personal stipend, and it is their responsibility to use that money to purchase all the required gear. They are allowed to shop wherever they wish as long as they meet the needs of the department. Many of them choose Turn Out Uniforms, which sells uniforms, protective clothing and accessories for police, fire, EMS and security personnel. Turn Out has a contract for the official badges that officers must purchase. They have been a primary supplier for the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department for nine years when Turn Out opened a store in the county, expanding from its other location in Hudson County.

passaic4Joe Chiusolo, the owner of Turn Out, began in the uniform business when he was just 16 years old. Chiusolo’s father was a fire captain in Jersey City, and Joe dreamt of following in his footsteps and becoming fire sergeant. However, the obstacle course proved to be just that, and the dream went by the wayside. Chiusolo was a resourceful young man and soon stumbled onto a business. He would screen print t-shirts on one Saturday night and the next Saturday morning, he would take a bus to the other side of Jersey City and sell t-shirts to firehouses all across the city. Eventually, Chiusolo started getting requests for various types of gear. The next six years, he worked a mix of EMS and running the uniform business out of his parent’s garage and the trunk of his car. Finally in 1982, Chiusolo opened his first store.

Chiusolo says his background as an EMT and the son of a fireman has given him firsthand knowledge of his customers’ experiences and enabled him to establish relationships. He also understands his customer’s needs. Chiusolo says of Turn Out, “We sell everything they need except for weapons and ammunition.” Turn Out has adequate inventory in each of its 10,000-square-foot facilities and can handle customer needs as they walk in. It also does in-store alterations, so many of its customers – including the personnel of the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department – can walk into the store and walk out minutes later with all their uniform needs.

According to Chiusolo, the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department’s badges are unique. The badge is custom designed and has the Passaic County seal with numbers to identify who the person is. The numbering system was established to cut down on the amount of people who were misinforming procedure. When a badge is needed, the sheriff contacts Turn Out who then gets it from Smith and Warren.

Sheriff Berdnik has been serving in his current role in the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department since Jan. 1, 2011. Since his appointment, Berdnik thoroughly reviewed all aspects of the Sheriff’s Office. He has focused on improving technology, training and overall operations of the agency. All three major divisions of the agency – the patrol, corrections, and courthouse security – have seen basic and operational improvements under Berdnik’s leadership. Those basic improvements include the maintenance of uniforms. With the help of Chiusolo and Turn Out Uniforms, the Passaic County Sheriff officers are well clothed and ready to do their jobs.