Undersheriff Gary Giardina is sworn in as the new Passaic County Sheriff
Out of the tragedy, a new era began at the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office Wednesday morning.
Executive Undersheriff Gary Giardina was sworn in as acting sheriff by Passaic County Chief Judge Darren Del Sardo. A lifelong Wayne resident, Giardina has more than 45 years of law enforcement experience and spent the past decade with the Sheriff’s Office.
Giardina met with senior staff Tuesday night and worked with them to ensure all members of the department received grief counseling in the wake of the incident, Public Information Officer William Meyer said in a statement Wednesday. Former Sheriff Richard Berdnick died Tuesday afternoon.
Berdnick, a five-time mayor who was first elected in 2010, shot himself Tuesday afternoon at a restaurant in Clifton, according to multiple sources. His death, which friends and colleagues described as unfathomable, remained under investigation by the county prosecutor’s office on Wednesday.
“This is obviously a sad day,” Mayer said. “The department’s hearts go out to the Berdnick family and Sheriff Berdnick’s friends and longtime colleagues.”
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Despite the sudden change, Meyer said operations were continuing as usual on Wednesday. Giardina has been in contact with the governor’s office and met with the executive staff. Meyer said he has also reached out to the district attorney, the county manager and municipal police chiefs regarding the transition.
Giardina joined the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office as its chief of staff in 2014 after retiring as police chief in his hometown of Clifton. In all, he spent 36 years with the Clifton Police Department. He began his career as an officer in 1978, the year Berdnick graduated from Clifton High School. About five years later, Berdnick joined him on the force. Both rose through the ranks, with Giardina reaching the rank of chief in 2010, the same year Berdnick was tapped to become county sheriff.
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Giardina was sworn in as executive agent in January 2022 to manage day-to-day operations and assist Berdnick with policy development and strategic planning. He was second in command of the department and first as mayor.
The state has conflicting laws regarding job vacancies. However, after the 2018 filing of Michael Sodino, the former Bergen County Sheriff, officials from the District Attorney’s Office and the State Department reached a consensus. The governor may fill vacancies in the county sheriff’s office with the advice and consent of the state Senate as long as the appointee belongs to the same political party as the previous occupant. The appointment shall continue until a successor is elected. In this case, it will be in the next general election.
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In New Jersey, county sheriffs are elected to three-year terms distributed among the 21 counties. Passaic County is currently grouped with 11 other counties in a cycle. Among them are Bergen, Morris and Sussex counties. Berdnick last won election in 2022 by 8,000 votes over Republican Mason Maher, a Paterson police lieutenant.
Before Giardina, the last Passaic County sheriff was Charles Myers. Myers was the undersheriff in charge of the Passaic County Jail in August 2010, when former county Sheriff Jerry Speziale abruptly resigned to take a more lucrative role with the Port Authority Police Department.
Speziale had already won the 2010 Democratic primary. County Democrats then offered his place on the November ballot to Berdnick, who took office on January 1, 2011. Myers remained in office until then, working to reduce the prison population through measures Alternative hiring and layoffs to begin in 2011.
The Sheriff’s Office is currently dealing with the disruption of pending layoffs to make up for the closure of the Passaic County Jail and following the recent arrest of three correctional officers in connection with the alleged assault of a handcuffed inmate.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Undersheriff Gary Giardina is sworn in as the new Passaic County Sheriff