With Fort Lee Police Chief Thomas O. Ripoli reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65, Fort Lee is about to get a new police chief and a new deputy police chief in the process, Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich said Monday.
Current Capt. Keith Bendul of the Fort Lee Police Department will become chief, most likely officially at the Fort Lee Mayor and Council’s first regular meeting in November, and current Capt. Timothy Ford will be named deputy chief, according to Sokolich.
“We’ve preliminarily selected [Bendul],” Sokolich told Patch. “We’ve also elected to go with a deputy chief as well. In Fort Lee, for the first time in a long time, we’ll have a chief and a deputy chief.”
Bendul told Patch he is honored to have been selected by the governing body to lead the department starting January 1 and thanked them for their support.
"I pledge to work tirelessly to provide the best law enforcement services to our community," Bendul said.
Bendul joined the department 23 years ago and credits his success with having had "two excellent training officers" and squad supervisors who, through their years of combined experience and knowledge, taught him what it really meant to be a Fort Lee police officer.
He also credits Ripoli and retired Police Chief Thomas Tessaro and Deputy Chief Reuter with providing him not only with guidance, but also opportunities.
"As the next chief, I will provide the men and women of the Fort Lee Police Department with leadership while honoring the traditions established by those who served before me," Bendul said.
Bendul acknowledged the department's long tradition of legacy—fathers serving with sons; brothers with brothers.
He called working with his brother, Lt. Scott Bendul, who retired in February, "one of the proudest aspects of my career."
Bendul credits his parents with instilling a tradition of public service in their children. Both Bendul and his brother were members of the Fort Lee Fire Department, and their younger brothers both served in the U.S. Navy. Mark Bendul was also recently promoted to the rank of sergeant with the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office.
Bendul said that he is looking forward to having Ford serve as his deputy chief.
"Together, we will work closely with the governing body and the other emergency services to protect the members of our community," Bendul said. "We will depend on every officer and civilian staff to work as a team in order to reach our goals and objectives."
He added, "We will also depend on the community to assist the department by contacting us and providing information so together we can address problems and improve the quality of life in Fort Lee."
Sokolich said borough officials “spent a tremendous amount of time” on the decision, and that it wasn’t an easy one because of similar qualifications among candidates.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Sokolich said. “I’m happy to report that there’s an incredible talent pool that emanates from the Fort Lee Police Department from which we had to select the next chief.”
Sokolich added, “It was a heck of a decision for government; it really was.”
“But we’re very pleased,” he said. “We’ve spoken to both the incoming chief and the incoming deputy chief, and they’re incredibly enthusiastic and looking forward to taking over the reins of the Fort Lee Police Department, which is one of the best in the county, if not the best in the county.”
Sokolich said the Mayor and Council would adopt a formal resolution “probably” at its first public meeting in November, but that he wanted to make the decision relatively quickly in order to allow for a “transition period” among Ripoli, Bendul and Ford.
Sokolich lauded Bendul for his “incredible attention to detail,” among other qualities.
“We’re excited about his emphasis on technological innovation and the impact of those innovations on tools that can assist and improve the day-to-day quality of the lives of our residents,” Sokolich said. “We’re looking forward to moving into the next century with both this chief and deputy chief combination.”
The mayor added, “It was just a lot of work” selecting Ripoli’s successor.
“I’m glad it’s done; I’m glad it’s behind us, and Fort Lee’s going to move into a new era,” Sokolich said.