EAST ORANGE, NJ — On Friday, Jan. 20, East Orange Mayor Lester Taylor made local history when he named Deputy Chief Phyllis Bindi the city’s first female police chief and Andre Williams fire chief, the city’s youngest. A crowd of well-wishers and fellow officers from the East Orange Police and Fire departments filled Messiah Baptist Church on Oak Street. Bindi had been serving as the acting chief with Public Safety Director Sheilah Coley, since her predecessor, former police Chief William Robinson, retired last year.
Williams is taking over command of the East Orange Fire Department, following the retirement last year of former fire Chief Charles Salley. Both Williams and Bindi are East Orange natives and, while this isn’t a requirement, Taylor and others have said it makes a difference in terms of their commitment to serve the citizens and the quality of service rendered.
Taylor also noted that a recent Wall Street Journal analysis of about a dozen urban public safety departments in New Jersey cited East Orange as the only one that “reflects the community it serves.” Bindi is of Italian descent and Williams is black.
“These two phenomenal leaders are extremely committed and passionate about the work they do and the people whom they serve,” Taylor said Friday, Jan. 20. “Over the years, they’ve earned the respect of not only their peers, but most importantly, the citizens of this community. Diversity among our Police, Fire and Emergency Management divisions, in particular, is one of the key ingredients in our pursuit to set the standard for urban excellence.”
But this was not the first time glass ceilings had been broken here. Taylor also handpicked Coley to serve as the city’s first public safety director, after the East Orange City Council approved his administration’s plan to combine the Police and Fire departments with the Office of Emergency Management into a single Public Safety Department.
According to Taylor, choosing Coley, who is a longtime East Orange resident, was simply a matter of finding the right person for the job. The same proved true for Bindi, who now leads a department of nearly 200 people.
“We do represent the community that we serve — the demographics are the same,” Coley said Tuesday, July 19, at a Public Safety Forum. “I think that we have one of the highest female populations in a police department anywhere. I think at least 40 percent of the (East Orange) Police Department are women.”
Bindi also said there is definitely a positive difference in the way that females approach policing and public safety, compared to their male counterparts.
“We definitely teach everyone to treat everyone the same, whether the officer is a male or a female,” Bindi said Tuesday, July 19. “I believe females sometimes do take a different approach to things. But again, there could be an off day for a female and an off day for a male as well. It’s based on the individual person. Like the director said: We do teach the officers to go out, be fair, be just, treat people with dignity and respect as you would like to be treated. They are trained how to approach people.”