Dozens of police officers and chiefs from Fort Lee and other towns, along with family and friends, packed Fort Lee's Borough Hall Thursday, as the Mayor and Council swore in a new police chief and deputy police chief.
As expected, Capt. Keith Bendul was appointed Chief of the Fort Lee Police Department, and Capt. Timothy Ford was appointed Deputy Police Chief. Their appointments are effective Jan. 1, 2013, with current Fort Lee Police Chief Thomas Ripoli having reached the mandatory retirement age and therefore leaving the post he has served in since 2004 at the end of the year.
The entire Mayor and Council presented Ripoli with a plaque “in recognition of his 41 years of service to people of Fort Lee,” words which Sokolich called “so apropos.”
The mayor also said choosing Bendul and Ford was an “agonizing decision” and called the two “the dynamic duo that are going to lead us into the next century.”
Sokolich said the first time he met Ripoli, the chief told him that he was “a player’s coach,” something Sokolich admitted he didn’t understand at first.
“But through his performance, I knew exactly what it meant,” Sokolich said. “Every single time something was needed for his department, every time something was needed for either the safety of the folks that are in the department to the safety of the community or to better and make more productive the police department, you may rest assured that your chief was in our doors imploring government to make sure that we did the right thing.”
Sokolich also lauded the Fort Lee Police Department for being as well run, well respected and high-performing as any in the state.
“You have no idea the relief and the ability to lead and to function in government without excessively high crime rates, without having to worry about whether or not our citizens are safe,” Sokolich said, adding, “We never have that issue here in Fort Lee, and I think sometimes we even take it for granted. But we don’t because of the personnel that populate that department.”
Ripoli said he had worked for five chiefs, and that this was the first time there was a transition period. He also said he preferred to “remain in the background” Thursday but was persuaded not to by Bendul.
“It’s an honor to be able to pass the torch on to Keith and Timmy,” Ripoli said. “I worked with them for many years, and everything is going to be fine.”
Ripoli also offered Bendul some advice.
“As many of the chiefs in this room will attest to, sometimes you will feel that you’re on your own, and you’re on an island,” he said. “Take a step back, take a deep breath, remember what your parents taught you, and use your instincts. I’m sure you will make the right decisions.”
Bendul said it was a “terrific honor” to be appointed chief, and that he’s looking forward to serving with Ford. He went on to thank his family for supporting and believing in him and his colleagues in the police department. Bendul also thanked Ripoli and former Police Chief Thomas Tessaro, whom he called to the front of Borough Hall, for their guidance, and said that perhaps the biggest highlight of his career was having the opportunity to serve with his brother, Lt. Scott Bendul, who recently retired, for 23 years.
“I will serve each day to the best of my ability with passion and total commitment,” Bendul said. “As chief, I will lead the members of the Fort Lee Police Department to improve safety and the quality of life.”
He added that he and Ford are “optimistic about the future of the Fort Lee Police Department,” and that together with the command staff, they would lead with “dedication, honor and integrity.”
“Tonight, I, along with every member of our department, begin the task of working together as a team and taking my vision for the department and putting that into action,” Bendul said. “We plan to develop an organizational culture of ownership—one of personal responsibility and accountability. We will build on the best successes that Chief Tessaro and Chief Ripoli have put in place, and we will continue to improve the effectiveness and the efficiency of our department.”
Councilman Armand Pohan said Bendul and Ford are “very thoughtful” and “deeply experienced,” and that choosing between them was “unbelievably difficult” for the governing body.
“But what was agonizing for us was really good news for everybody in town to know that we have two such highly qualified people as our chief and our deputy chief,” Pohan said.
Noting that over the past several weeks, “the world is not the same place we grew up in,” Councilwoman Ila Kasofsky said she’s looking forward to working with Bendul and Ford.
“I know Fort Lee is in great hands,” Kasofsky said.