BELLEVILLE, NJ — Barbara Bermudez was bursting with pride when she became the first Latina in the history of the Belleville Police Department to be promoted.
“It’s just one more door that’s opening for all of us,” she said, after being promoted to sergeant during a ceremony at Town Hall on April 12. “It’s an amazing accomplishment and I am so proud to be the first one.”
Bermudez, Capt. Frank Pignataro and Lt. William Washington took the oath, as administered by Mayor Michael Melham, during the brief ceremony attended by friends, family and fellow police officers.
For Bermudez, it was a long journey to arrive at her place in Belleville history. She spent 10 years working as a teacher before listening to a voice deep inside that kept saying police work was her true calling.
“I want to help,” she said. “I want to be part of my community. I want to give 110 percent to everything that I do.”
Even with Police Chief Mark Minichini, Councilmen Steve Rovell and Vinny Cozzarelli, and township manager Anthony Iacono in attendance, Bermudez’s history-making promotion seemed to resonate most deeply with Councilwoman Naomy De Pena.
“Thank you, Sgt. Bermudez, for helping keep the residents of Belleville safe and secure these past eight years,” De Pena said. “From one Latina who works hard for this town to another, I applaud your service and thank you for being a trailblazer in Belleville.”
Several members of Bermudez’s family also shared in the big day, including her husband, a corrections officer in Essex County; her sister, a police officer in Clifton; her cousin, a police officer in Newark; her son; her mother; and her mother’s wife, a state corrections officer.
Washington, a member of the department’s SWAT team, can trace his decision to dedicate his life to law enforcement to when he was about to graduate from Rutgers University.
“I didn’t want to sit in an office,” said Washington, who has been a member of the police department since 2003. “I decided I would rather help people, protect and serve, and enjoy being outside, running around.”
Washington said the best part of being a police officer is those moments when someone expresses true appreciation.
“When you see people on their worst day — you don’t recognize them, but they recognize you,” he said. “They come up to you and say, ‘I thank you for what you did for me that day.’ It meant a lot that you took the time out to speak to them or you helped them out with their situation. That’s the best part.”
For Pignataro, his rise to captain is a story of a local kid succeeding in his hometown.
“It means a lot,” he said. “I was born and raised in Belleville. I went through the school system. I graduated in 1998 to come back to my hometown and have served in the police department. To rise to the rank of captain — sometimes I can’t believe that it’s actually happening, that I actually did it.”
Pignataro, who joined the Belleville Police Department in 2008, is the commander of the traffic and community policing unit. In his position, he has many opportunities to meet residents. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, he was also involved in outreach to Belleville’s schools.
“It’s just great to give back to a community that gave so much to me,” he said.
“I am very proud of all three officers who were promoted,” Minichini said. “They have a passion for serving and they truly exemplify what we are looking for in police in Belleville.”
Photos Courtesy of Belleville Township