Chief living her childhood dream

East Orange Police Chief Phyllis L. Bindi is a native of East Orange who knew from an early age that she wanted to be a police officer.

EAST ORANGE — East Orange Police Chief Phyllis L. Bindi was very young when she first got involved with public safety.

Her grandmother and aunt both worked the Bingo games at St. Joseph’s School on Telford Street. Bindi would ride her Big Wheel tricycle to the games with her grandmother and they would come to a corner manned by East Orange Police Officer Bobby Thompson, who Bindi described as big in stature and very popular among neighborhood residents who all stopped to say hello as he served as a crossing guard for the Bingo crowd.

“I would watch how the community interacted with him, older people, students, they adored him,” Bindi said. “I begged him to let me help and he got me an orange safety belt and let me help.”

Bindi has been in the news since she was awarded an honorary doctorate degree and Humanitarian Platinum Leadership Award from the Institute of Public Policy and Diplomacy and the Humanitarian Focus Foundation during a reception held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. The event celebrated the efforts of exceptional leaders who dedicate their lives to improving society and advocating for the United Nations agenda of promoting harmony, peace, and sustainable development. Bindi was one of only 40 individuals from around the world so honored.

The chief has been part of an historic drop in crime in East Orange, which has seen the overall crime rate drop by 80 percent since 2003. Violent crimes – murder, rape and robbery – have dropped 77 percent while property crimes – larceny, theft, burglary – have fallen 81 percent from 2003 to 2022.

A native of East Orange who was surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in the city’s 3rd Ward, she remembers being about eight years old and at a friend’s house when the friend’s mother came home wearing a police uniform.

“I was like, ‘You’re a cop?’ That she was female, I never knew you could be a female cop,” Bindi said. “It became tangible for me.”

Her parents moved to Belleville when she was 12 but Bindi spent summers in East Orange with her grandparents because her parents were both working full time.

She graduated from Belleville High School, where she played softball, and took a job with the U.S. Postal Service but planned on becoming a police officer.

“I took a civil service test to become a police officer in Essex County,” Bindi said. “Newark called me first but my parents told me to turn it down, they wanted me to go to East Orange. This is where my roots are.”

East Orange did call and she was 20 years old when she went into the Police Academy.

Her hiring had been made possible by a Safe Neighborhoods grant from the Clinton Administration. The city got about 50 new police officers through this grant but it stipulated they needed to be beat cops walking the streets.

“I knew everybody on the South Side and they put me on the North Side,” Bindi said. “That was my introduction to community policing.”

For three years, Bindi walked a beat before she was moved into what was called the “vice unit,” at the time. The unit investigated drug cases, prostitution, and gambling that included dog fights, rooster fights and dice games. “It was extremely challenging, you put a lid on one thing and something else would rear its ugly head,” she said. Bindi worked undercover details, buying drugs on the street. She called it a great learning experience that provided her with experience that she was able to put in her “tool box” for later on.

In 2002, she was promoted to sergeant and assigned to the Enhanced Community Safety Team which was responsible for suppressing street level crime with an emphasis on narcotics and gang-related activities.

“We were still experiencing a lot of violence; carjackings, robbery, homicide, those were the main things,” she said.

“We had over 50 people in the unit at one point in time. We would flood the streets with community policing, educating the citizens, letting them know what we were doing and that we needed their assistance.”

Bindi was made lieutenant in April of 2006 and captain in 2012. She became tour commander of the 4 p.m. to midnight shift, traditionally the busiest for the department, and was credited with reducing crime for four consecutive years.

Because of her success, Bindi became the first special operations coordinator, responsible for all operations, including patrol, investigative, violent crime and intelligence. She was named chief in January of 2017.

The department currently has about 230 employees and they are currently recruiting new officers. Bindi credits the department’s officers and the use of transparency and technology for their success.

During the Black Lives Matter movement and protests resulting from the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the department partnered with stakeholders to host a “Peace but Not Patience” march and rally, which brought the community together to support police reform and community partnerships.

“The community is our eyes and ears,” Bindi said. “East Orange is a very unique community. They are protective of us and we are protective of them.”

Bindi has restored and expanded Police Athletic League activities, and implemented or continued programs such as Coffee with a Cop, the Junior Police Explorers program, and Neighborhood Watch Meetings.

The department tries to be proactive. For example, after seeing an increase in the thefts of Hyundai and Kia automobiles which has been blamed on a TikTok challenge, they reached out to the car makers and asked what they could do about it.

The car companies sent East Orange pallets of steering wheel locks, which were then distributed to people owning those types of automobiles, Bindi said.

The city is broken down into zones and grids and when a crime has been committed, or there is concern one could be committed, they flood the zones, targeting the specific grid section. In a recent case, the department got wind that a retaliation crime was planned so they had extra patrols in the zone and officers on foot in the grid which was most likely to be targeted.

“You have patrol officers on the street in the zone, then you have reserve officers in the grid and officers on foot near specific buildings,” said Lt. Leo Filev, who has been with the department for 18 years.

They also keep neighboring departments apprised of what’s going on. Bindi is heavily involved in the Essex County Chiefs of Police Association, currently serving as its president.

The department’s technology includes surveillance cameras around the city, body cameras worn by officers, the iCan community alert network, automatic license plate readers that can alert the department if a car has been reported stolen or been used in a crime and SoundThinking, formerly known as ShotSpotter, which alerts the department if a gunshot has been fired in the city and pinpoints the location.

East Orange Mayor Ted R. Green said the city is one of the safest cities of its size and demographic in the nation.

“She leads by example and her commitment to the people of East Orange is second to none,” Green said.

On a personal level, Bindi said she likes to ride motorcycles when she has the time but she also likes spending time “hanging with family and friends.” Bindi earned her bachelor’s degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2020 and master’s degree from FDU in 2022.

Public Safety Director Maurice Boyd said Bindi’s dedication to the citizens of East Orange is unmatched.

“I have worked with Chief Bindi for more than 20 years, and during that time, she has always been of high character,” Boyd said. “She continues to be a role model for all women in law enforcement.”

Bindi takes particular pride in her niece who is part of the Roseland Police Department. She’s 25 years old and the only female with the department. She spent a lot of time with Bindi when she was growing up.

“I’m so proud of her,” Bindi said. “A lot of people are hesitant to become cops but she jumped in with
both feet.”

Chief Phyllis L. Bindi at her desk at police headquarters.