Who’ll be the sheriff in these parts? Cassidy faces Perez for Hudson County sheriff

Joseph Cassidy and Juan Manual Perez are competing against each other for a three-year term as Hudson County sheriff.

They won’t be squaring off with guns drawn on a dusty street, but instead are up for a vote in the June 5 Democratic primary.

Cassidy, a four-term incumbent, is a lifelong Jersey City resident who served in the Jersey City Police Department for 32 years before retiring from the force in 1995 as a deputy chief.

Perez, 56, is currently deputy director of the Jersey City Police Department (JCPD). He served in the New Jersey State Police for over 26 years until retiring in 2004 as a captain.

Each man is backed by a powerful countywide Democratic group.

Cassidy is supported by the recently-formed Democrats for Hudson County, a group led by Union City Mayor and State Assemblyman Brian Stack.

Perez is running with the backing of the longstanding Hudson County Democratic Organization.‘I’m proud of what I’ve done’

When Joseph Cassidy took over as Hudson County sheriff in January 1996, he said he was confronted by a troubled department and the increasing responsibilities.

The county faced lawsuits over the department’s handling of female prisoners, and some of the responsibilities formerly handled by the recently disbanded Hudson County police fell on the shoulders of his officers.

Although an elected position, Cassidy said he has tried to keep politics and police duties separate. At times, this has brought him into conflicts with political forces. Over his 12 years as sheriff, however, he said he has managed to weather most of them.

This year’s election may present him with his most formidable challenge, since for the first time, Cassidy is running against the Hudson County Democratic Organization with the hope that his name and his record will allow him to keep his post for another three years.

Cassidy came up through the ranks of the Jersey City Police Department, where he started at a patrolman in the early 1960s. He eventually was promoted to detective, in 1997 to sergeant. Soon after, he headed the Alcohol Beverage Control unit. In 1981, he was promoted again to lieutenant and took up criminal investigations. In 1985, he was promoted to Captain, taking on tasks such as payroll and budget, as well as dispatching of mobile and foot patrol units.

By the time he ran for Hudson County sheriff in 1995, he had already served as deputy chief in Jersey City for four years. What the department does

Although the Sheriff’s Department once had limited responsibilities such as transporting prisoners, changes in Hudson County as well as in the nation have broadened the scope of the department, Cassidy said.

“We’re very involved with homeland security,” he said.

This increased role was very evident the day of the interview, because it was less than 48 hours after the shocking news of the massacres at Virginia Tech – and his officers were on call for increased local security.

Over the last few years, the Sheriff’s Department has taken on a broader role regarding pursuit of wanted criminals and crowd control. Two years ago, federal Homeland Security grants paid for the purchase of an armored vehicle that allows officers from the department to establish secure zones even in highly volatile areas.

“We can send the vehicle into the middle of a problem area accompanied by a rapid deployment force in full body armor, and usually people will stand down,” he said.

Cassidy said the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, changed the role of his department forever, and recalls the role his department played in helping the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey secure the Lincoln Tunnel and provide security for other areas.

But the role of the department has grown in other ways, too, Cassidy said, noting that if there is a cave-in on Paterson Plank Road such as the recent one in Union City, or flooding in North Bergen, his men are often asked to help with traffic control and other issues.

“Fortunately, officers in my department play a limited role in law enforcement aspects when it comes to the general public,” he said. “We don’t give out tickets or deal with other situations that give the public a negative impression. When we come into a situation, it is generally to help out and that is seen as positive.” Cassidy’s achievements

Cassidy takes credit for some very significant changes in the department that he says he instituted from the day he took office.

One of these was to increase the number of female officers in the department. He said he went as far as to get waivers to allow him to hire women who scored lower on testing than some of their male counterparts.

“I knew we needed women in the department,” he said. “We deal with female prisoners, and having women officers helps counter potential suits we might get.”

Cassidy also said he took an aggressive stance regarding deadbeat dads, men who fail to pay court-ordered child support payments. He said he had seen the impact with members of his extended family, so that this became a priority of his administration.

Over the last few years, he has become part of a larger anti-crime effort, assigning officers to the U.S. Marshall’s office as part of a statewide task force.

Meanwhile, his department continues its traditional duties of transporting prisoners to and from the courts, and providing security for the courts.

Most recently, Cassidy said he has instituted new programs that widen the scope of duties for his department such as fingerprinting grammar school children (with parents’ permission) to provide a means of identifying children in case of kidnapping. His office also instituted Operation Life Saver that provides a fee-based tracking program for victims of Alzheimer’s disease.

“I’m proud of what I’ve done over the last 12 years and I hope to continue to do it,” Cassidy said. Perez:’I want to make history here’

One of Juan Manual Perez’s first tasks if elected to the Hudson County Sheriff is to initiate a Junior Deputy Sheriff Day. That’s where officers from the sheriff’s department would teach kids about their work, and hopefully spark the respect and enthusiasm for law enforcement that Perez experienced as a young boy.

“When I was kid in school, police officers would come and you would get a little badge – that made my day,” Perez said. “You want to instill in kids not to be afraid of cops…they are your friends; it’s a partnership.”

Perez, a native of Puerto Rico, came to the United States with his family at the age of 5.

The second youngest of 15 children, Perez has lived in Hudson County for the last 51 years, 43 of those in Jersey City. A self proclaimed “Jersey City kid” who grew up in a cold water flat and had the Hudson River as his “backyard,” he attended Public Schools 5 and 9, Ferris High School, and Jersey City State College (now known as New Jersey City University).

After college, he taught at Public School 37 in Jersey City but realized that was “not his calling” and decided to pursue his first love by becoming a New Jersey State Trooper in 1977. He moved through the ranks from trooper to captain, retiring at that rank in 2004.

During that time, he also founded the Hispanic-American Law Enforcement Association.

He is now in his third year as JCPD’s deputy director, a job that he describes as “wonderful” and where he works with a “bunch of great guys.”

With all the congeniality, why leave for a new post?

“It’s a beautiful opportunity; I think I can make a difference,” Perez said. “I saw that morale is down. and there are a lot of things I would like to be done [in the Sheriff’s Department].”

One of the first things he wants to deal with is the gradual departure of sheriff officers.

“[The Hudson County Sheriff’s Office] is losing guys, young guys, individuals, since the job doesn’t pay too well,” Perez said. “I am thinking of making for officers with 10 years or more experience a title of Senior Sheriff Officer and bump them up in pay.”

Perez said he would make it his mission to pursue the more than 11,000 outstanding warrants for felons who have fled the county on various violations; pointing out that a few years ago, there were 4,000 outstanding warrants.

He also wants to resurrect the Operation TELON program done out of the county’s Welfare division that specializes in going after deadbeat dads, which has been out of commission for two years.

He also plans to have the officers take on more responsibilities, as he feels they are “underutilized.” And he also plans to be more proactive as well by going out to community meetings and working closely with all the municipal police departments, rather than simply having a title, an office, and a desk.

“When I’m the sheriff, let me tell you something, they can spot me a mile away,” Perez said. “I plan to be uniform attired and I plan to be out there. I’m not an office person.”

As far as campaigning against a well-established incumbent like Joseph Cassidy, he said he is excited about the prospect of running to be elected as the first New Jersey state trooper and first Hispanic to ever hold the post.

“I want to make history here,” Perez said, “and I am bringing experience. I am not an empty suit.” Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at rkaulessar@hudsonreporter.com


© 2000, Newspaper Media Group