BY STEPHANIE AKIN
HACKENSACK — The city swore in two new police officers Tuesday, including the department’s first Muslim member.
KEVIN R. WEXLER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Mohammad Sheikh, 24, saluting Councilwoman Karen Sasso after she handed him his badge. The new officer was sworn in by Mayor Jorge Meneses, right. The other new officer is Frank McCall, 36, a Teaneck native.
Mohammad Sheikh, 24, joins the department after four years in Paterson, where he was among 125 officers laid off last April.
Frank McCall, 36, is transferring from Union City, where he has served since he was laid off in Newark last June.
Both officers said they hoped to add to the department’s diversity.
Sheikh, who speaks Arabic and was born in Palestine, said he wanted to serve as a liaison between the city and its Muslim population.
“Ever since Sept. 11, the stereotype about Muslim Americans has been very bad,” Sheikh said. “I wanted to challenge that stereotype. This is one way of giving back to the community.”
Official counts of the number of Muslim officers in Bergen County are not available, but Sheikh and police Capt. Tomas Padilla, the acting chief of the department, said they know of one in Bergenfield and one in the county Sheriff’s Department.
Religious groups are not tracked by the census, but Mohamed El filali, executive director of the Islamic Center of Passaic County, estimated that between 100,000 and 200,000 Muslims live in Bergen and Passaic counties, with the Bergen County population concentrated in Hackensack and neighboring Teaneck. That town swore in the county’s first Muslim mayor in 2010.
El filali added that Bergen County has lagged behind Passaic in hiring law enforcement officers. At least 12 Muslim officers serve in the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department alone, El filali said.
He said he was thrilled that Sheikh had joined the Hackensack force.
“Muslims are part and parcel of their communities and they should serve their municipalities, counties, states and countries,” he said.
Michael Hamza, secretary of the Bergen County Islamic Education Center, one of two mosques in Hackensack, said his organization has had a positive relationship with the city, and that he was happy that Sheikh had been hired as a police officer.
“It’s good news,” he said. “Many of us [Muslims] think we are under scrutiny and we don’t get these kinds of jobs.”
McCall, a Teaneck native, said his urban experience in Newark and Union City could bring a different perspective to the department.
“A lot of things happen out there that don’t happen here,” he said.
Hackensack had 2.5 reported violent crimes per 1,000 residents in 2010, compared to 10.3 in Newark, according to FBI Uniform Crime Statistics.
The officers will start at the city’s second police officer salary bracket because of their previous law enforcement experience, according to a city policy, Padilla said. They will each earn $49,938 annually, plus benefits.
They will bring the total number of officers in the department to 112, although nine are on unpaid suspensions and one is on family leave, Padilla said. The department’s table of organization, an official document that maps department positions, calls for 114 officers.
Padilla said the new hires were selected because they were the best candidates, but he was pleased to see the department becoming more diverse.
“We are a very diverse community,” he said. In Hackensack, only 46.7 percent of the population identified itself as white on the 2010 census. “We try to mirror the community we serve.” source