By Ron Leir
Talk about parallel life paths: Joseph White and Matthew Giunta went to pre-school (St. Michael’s) together, then to Franklin Elementary School, then Lyndhurst High.
And, last Friday, they entered the Bergen County Law & Public Safety Institute in Mahwah to begin 22 weeks of training to become accredited municipal police officers in their hometown.
Joining White, 25, and Giunta, 24, in the training class will be Nolan James, 33; and Michael Giangeruso, 27. Those four, along with Nicholas Abruscato, 23, were sworn in as newly hired Lyndhurst cops in an outdoor ceremony in the park outside the Municipal Building July 22.
The additions to the police roster brings the strength of the department up to 48 – four short of the maximum permitted by township ordinance under its Table of Organization, according to Police Chief James O’Connor.
Asked if any further appointments were planned, O’Connor said: “I’ve had a conversation with the mayor about that and it’s possible that we may see something happen around the first of the year.”
Abruscato, son of former Township Commissioner and current Board of Education vice president Joseph Abruscato, has already graduated from the police academy, having served the past year and a half as a police officer in Bergen County. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s in national security studies, both from New Jersey City University in Jersey City.
“He will go on the road immediately,” said O’Connor.
Giangeruso, whose dad Charles is a retired deputy chief with the Lyndhurst PD and whose brother Charles is a Lyndhurst police officer, has an associate degree in criminal justice from Bergen County Community College and is pursuing a B.A. in psychology at Montclair University where he’s a dean’s list student, according to O’Connor. He’s a cousin of Mayor Robert Giangeruso, a former Lyndhurst deputy police chief.
“Law enforcement has been in my family forever,” Michael Giangeruso told The Observer. When asked whether he felt any pressure to follow the blue path, though, “Not in any regard,” was the rookie’s reply. “I’m just altruistic,” he said. “I enjoy helping people.”
James has been an officer with the state Corrections Department for more than six years, assigned to the Adult Diagnostic & Treatment Center in Avenel, and was a recipient of “numerous letters of exceptional duty” from the DOC, O’Connor noted.
James, who attended the University of New Haven in Connecticut, holds a New Jersey teaching certificate. With his new appointment, James said he was “happy to be further along in my law enforcement career.”
White has served as a member of the Lyndhurst Police Auxiliary and has a B.A. in criminal justice from Montclair State University and Giunta is pursuing a degree in criminal justice.
“I’ve always wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement,” Giunta told a reporter. “I love the work and I look forward to a long career.”
Also beaming was White, who, after being handed his badge, said he was “on cloud 9. I’ve worked for the department as a maintenance officer, in charge of the vehicle fleet, traffic signs and barricades, as a member of the police auxiliary for several years. I’ve been the court bailiff. I’ve played sports here – baseball, basketball – and I want to give back to my community what they gave to me.”
Addressing the crowd of relatives, fellow officers, township officials and well-wishers, including Rutherford Police Chief John Russo, attending last Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony, O’Connor said the five new hires were judged to be the best of some 100 applicants for the job.
O’Connor reminded the rookies of the challenges they’ll be facing. “You’ll be a “teacher, parent, problem solver, negotiator and be expected to solve everyone’s problem in several minutes,” he said.
Remember, O’Connor told the rookies, an officer has to react to a situation in a clearheaded fashion with no emotion. “There are no do-overs. … Go out in our community and enforce the law. But also be good to your families, your friends and your neighbors. Become proud members of this profession.”