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Rivka Gitstein, Bergenfield Chief for the Day

What would you do if you ran a town for a day?

That’s a question many of us could answer, but few will ever get the chance. On Friday, June 14, 2013, the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office teamed up with 24 local and county law enforcement agencies for the third annual countywide Chief for a Day celebration. This program gave 28 special children with chronic health conditions a rare glimpse at the inner workings of local law enforcement. Teaneck’s own Rivka Gitstein (11) was selected to fill in as the Bergenfield Chief-of- Police.

Honorary Chief Gitstein’s day started off bright and early when at 8:00 a.m. she was picked up at her home by a squad car. Once she was settled in the car, Rivka and her fellow officers’ first stop was for breakfast, at you guessed it…Dunkin’ Donuts. After fueling up on some tasty treats, the next stop was the Bergenfield Police Head Quarters. On the way there, Rivka was delighted to see signs hanging in front of City Hall that read “Welcome Chief Gitstein!”

It was now time to get down to business. At approximately 8:45 Rivka was sworn in and signed her Oath of Office. Once she was officially in office, Gitstein received a tour of the Department and Borough Hall. Included were introductions to city hall employees and a fingerprint demo. After the tour, it was time for the fun to continue at Yeshivat Ha’atid, where Chief Gitstein participated in a Shabbos party. The day was still young, and after partying with some new friends, Rivka was driven to the Bergen County Justice Center to meet the other Honorary Chiefs. The grand finale of the day came when Rivka and her fellow Honorary Chiefs were escorted in a motorcade procession to the Landmark Restaurant in East Rutherford. She and her parents were treated to a kosher lunch, along with clowns and balloon art.

When asked for her reactions to the festivities, Rivka’s mother, Shira Gitstein told the JLBC “this was a very well organized, generous and kind service for all of these children. Rivka and all the children really felt special and Rivka had a wonderful time!”

Mrs. Gitstein stressed how much events like these help to foster a personal connection between the police force and the community they serve. Gitstein went on to comment, “It takes a village to raise a child. However, children with special needs are vulnerable, because they cannot defend themselves. Their hope for safety and security lies in the goodwill of the community and full protection of the law. Interactive programs like this break down the stigma and the natural fear that we all feel towards people who are different than we are or with whom we are unfamiliar. Hopefully, having met Rivka, the police and the other people who came in contact with her will come to see her as a person first, and then as someone with a disability.”

Events like this are valuable because they give children like Rivka an opportunity to feel both special and recognized by the people in her community. It is also a great vehicle to help all citizens feel more comfortable with the police, and see them as allies and as people who care for their safety.

By Steve Gutlove

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