Cover Story

The Blue Print
Feature Interview with Former Passaic County Sheriff Edwin Englehardt
In every walk of life we hear stories of the “Great Ones”– those who came from humble beginnings and rose to greatness by mastering their trade, and thereby, created a legacy remembered by those who had the honor and privilege to work for and walk alongside greatness. Retired Passaic County Sheriff, Edwin Englehardt is a man of which I speak. His incredible character, impeccable reputation, and devotion to our brotherhood, despite his political and professional power, are “old values,” which are often missing in our modern times.

This feature interview with Sheriff Englehardt (Ret.) begins our new series of discussions with law enforcement icons. NJ Blue Now will periodically select and feature those who distinguished themselves and have valuable lessons to share with our readers.

NJ Blue Now Magazine:
How many years did you serve as sheriff?

Englehardt: Served for 27 years

Why did you decide to retire?

You want the real answer or the one that sounds good?

Real answer

It was time for a change. The last few elections I thought about leaving and my friends would say Sheriff, one more and I would stay. When I left it was the best decision I made, I should have done it earlier, it would have avoided many headaches… (Laughs).

Why do you think it was time for a change?

People change, times change, and it was time for someone else to take over. What I was seeing was no longer something I wanted to fight for. Many were divided and I wanted no part of it. I had a long great career. It was enough.

What do you believe was your biggest accomplishment?

Building a great department almost from scratch. Seeing where it is today brings pride and joy to my heart. There are also many things we were the first to do as a department, but overall, building it was the most special. That covers all the accomplishments.

What did you like the most about being the boss?

Being in a position where I can make the decisions needed to complete the vision. It also gave me the opportunity to protect the people I cared about and who needed the help. Also having the control to protect myself as well. Many more but those come to mind.

You had an excellent reputation on keeping the Passaic County Jail running effectively and clean. How did you get that done? 

I took pride in my jail. I gave inmates nothing more and nothing less than what they were entitled to. My jail was no country club–it was a jail and that’s the way I ran it. I demanded my officers respect every inmate, but I would never allow my officers to take any shit from an inmate who was there to cause problems. My officers knew I had their back at all times. We had the best officers and they were treated as such. You can’t keep a jail running effectively if you don’t see the problems yourself, that is why I toured my jail every day. We kept control of our jail because I knew of an issue before it led to a problem. My administration knew what they were doing because I made sure they did.

How did you handle the ACLU? Today, the ACLU have forced some facilities to follow strict regulations on how to run a jail pertaining to inmate rights, thoughts on that?

Ask them. (Laughs). The ACLU always made demands. Again we fought for what was right. We always gave the inmates what they were entitled to; we were not there to kiss their ass. We were sued many times and we overcame all of them. I always had respect for any inmate we housed. But when they were in our custody they had to follow our rules, and if they didn’t like it, then they should have never broken the damn law. We were not going to turn into a country club under my watch.

Do you believe being the Sheriff is an important position? And why was it for you?

Absolutely. I was blessed to have had the opportunity to have had the influence at a time that people respected a leader. I’m sure they still do in their own way, but back then it was different. Having the power to help people at their worst or teach people how to be better was always something I enjoyed to do. It was also my obligation to protect the men and women who served in my department. My officers sometimes made mistakes, we all do, but I would not allow any bully reporter to go after my officers before going through me. My punishment was enough, they didn’t need some outsider attacking them or embarrassing them. Being the sheriff gives you that power to protect your officers and they should be protected. They have a rough job. Without them, my county would not be safe. I was voted in to do a job and that is a duty I served with honor.

What do you consider to be the most important thing an officer should believe in?

I wouldn’t say this applies just to an officer who has a badge, but all men, most important attribute to have is loyalty. If you have that, most likely your core is good. All other stuff is minor.

How did you handle your enemies or people who critiqued you due to jealousy/hate etc?

Are they still out there? (Laughs)

I’m sure.

Yeah, I believe you. Unfortunately, those types of people are like roaches because they always pop up and they come in all shapes and sizes. They hate because they are envious or jealous of what they do not have, or are not. It’s a deep emotion that infuriates them through their polluted soul. They are unhappy individuals inside, and it bothers them to see others happy or successful. That is a fact of life. It never surprised me.
What I did with those lost souls was ignore them, and wish them the worst. (Laughs). They will always find something to criticize you for, so arguing or confronting an enemy is as senseless as trying to understand them. They are sick and should be treated as that. Their time always comes in some way or another, majority of the times they crack at home. My enemies were always a patch in my ass. And I’m sure there are some other things I did to them that I can’t put on paper. I know you understand. One thing I did make clear was that I had no respect for them, and hopefully one day I would make sure they were sorry for what they did.

You have been at both points in your life. You have seen what it was to have influence and also seen what it is not to have all of it anymore. What comes to mind, or what have you learned from it?

Wow, a lot. With power comes attention, friends, decisions, and the ability to change someone’s life. I was always smart enough to understand that influence brought friends and not having it meant people had no need for you as much, so I understood that one day it will all end and some friendships will end with it. I understood that fully from the start. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Through your turmoils in your life when your career was coming to an end, what did you take from it?

Who my friends really were and how strong my men were around me. I also realized I needed to enjoy my life from there on.

Who was the person who disappointed you the most in your circle?

He is not worth the ink in your magazine. When you give everything to an individual and they sell out for their personal selfish gain, then you know they are worth nothing. Snakes like that could never be trusted and will never be satisfied no matter what you give them. They lack the most important thing: loyalty. You can make them the President of the United States and they will want more. God would have to watch out, because that is what they would want to become next.

So no name?

(Laughs). No, and not because of any other reason than he is not worth the ink in your magazine.

(Laughs) I tried.

I would have, too.

What is your worst quality?

What?

A trait you have you feel is not good?

I have a problem forgetting when someone tries to hurt me. I always try to stop myself from going after them. That is what came to mind.

What did you like about the old days that leaders today will not understand or experience?

I didn’t know I was that old. (Laughs). They will never understand what it is to resolve a problem or come to an agreement with just a simple handshake. We understood and believed a man’s word was sealed with a handshake, not a contract. They will never unfortunately be able to get the complete respect of the majority of their officers or followers. I say this respectfully, as I compare to how it was before. The new generation expects a lot and contributes very little. Before, the majority of the leaders were strong and only a few were weak. Today it’s the opposite. The majority are scared of their own shadows, and the strong ones now are the minority. Look around, you will see departments giving up more and more now. It really makes it worse for the officers.

What did strong leaders like yourself do back then that today they just don’t do?

Not all, but many are afraid of their own shadows as I said before. Being fearless and standing up to bullshit is seen less and less. Non-law enforcement politicians always tried to control me or my department and never succeeded. I put it all on the line if they hurt or challenged me on what was best for my men and women. It was clear, they shortchanged my department with budgets and other nonsense, that would have been their last term as elected officials. I controlled my party because of my supporters and officers–my party did not control me. I demanded respect and backed it up with all my resources because that is the only thing they understand.

Some say you were rough and at times punished your officers, pretty much ruled with an iron fist. What are your thoughts on that? Do you think that was a good way to be?

I was and am the way I am. That is what made me successful and that is why I lasted
so long. I was tough but fair. I didn’t like to punish some of them, but I had to.

Anything else on that?

You really want me to give you my thoughts with these questions. (Laughs). If that is what some say, I respect that. I cannot have made everyone happy and could not always have been right on all my decisions. I always tried my best. I always made my decisions based on facts that were given to me and stood behind all my decisions. You will always make mistakes, but you have to stand by them and move on. I relied on my circle for information and I acted on that. It worked for me. In a department with many officers with good and at times bad intentions, an iron fist like you said, was my way to protect my officers, my department, the people who voted for me, and myself. As firm as I was, I still put my officers first, always.

What advice can you give officers or a leader who wants to bring back the kind of control  and power you had against the political party and or decision-makers who control department budgets?

That will take years to properly answer, but I will try to explain it. If you want to control a political party, freeholders and administrators that decide on the well-being of your department, since they control budgets etc., you have to become strong enough to vote them in or vote them out. If you cannot vote them in or out, you have to send a message that you will do all you can to make sure they are perfectly behaved individuals in their personal life. Information brings power, if these decision-makers don’t fear you, they will never respect you. That is the secret of life. Do all you can to find out who these people really are. If they park illegally, you should know. (Laughs)
Once they understand you will do everything to protect your department, they will not only respect you but also become your friend. Politicians come and go, and most of the times they don’t understand how to run or budget a department. You guys have more vested, therefore treasure it and control your destiny.
At the same time a leader can only do so much, but the men and women also have to sacrifice their time and investment to make their union or department strong. If you have a good leader, then build by making the group strong. I believed in a strong presence with anything the department did and that is no longer existent. A weak presence in the community will always lead to someone else having your fate in their hands.
Leaders, devote all your efforts to accomplish your goals. Do not let your emotions get the best of you, be inspirational.

You have truly been real. What are your plans from here and do you have any thoughts that come to mind regarding your career or your life?

I do what I want to do and I go where I want to go. I lived my life the way I chose to. I can say I have been a blessed man that did and received everything I worked hard to get. I have always been a simple person. I could have lived anywhere, but I choose to live on top of my hardware store. Some might find it strange, but I call it home. I see many officers everyday still coming in and out of the jail and courthouse and it makes my day. I have a true respect for many of you and I am so proud of what so many of you have done today.
This is my end, and I am satisfied with all I did and accomplished. I am ready for tomorrow and even the other side. I have lost many friends throughout my years and one day I am excited to see them again. I really want to say thank you to all of you who gave me a little respect, love, and most importantly, your loyalty. I will never forget, and without each of you, I would have never accomplished what I did as your leader. A leader is just as good as the men and women and all smart leaders understand that.

Message to officers out there?

Be careful. Times are rough. Be proud but humble, be cautious but fearless, be true to one another and understand the best is when you support one another not only through the good times but the hard ones. Offer support rather than criticism. If you don’t take care of one another who will? Thank you to you Danny, who just took all of us to a level we don’t always see in this profession. This magazine really amazes me every time I read it and I cannot believe it was born here in Passaic County. You always were never afraid to speak your mind with your friends and adversaries, and that is something that has led you to take steps others will be afraid to. I always remember you called out things for what they were and I am honored to call you my best friend. Great job to you and your team and to all of you who are wearing that badge on your chest today. You are the future; within you lies the new direction in the police world. I love and admire all of you today and forever. You will always have a friend who truly appreciates and respects you from the bottom of my heart.

Anything raw that comes to mind?

Don’t take anybody’s shit! Not even an Eddie Englehardt. (Laughs). Remember, stand up against these politicians who show you no respect. Don’t let them intimidate you. All of you are doing a great job and without you, these anti-police assholes will be running scared somewhere. Leaders need to speak out against them just like our President Donald Trump is doing.

Any last words?

This will be the last interview I will ever do, and I hope your readers understand I was as honest as I could because of the respect and admiration I have for you and each of you who wear that badge.
To all my friends and my beautiful girls in my office that always protected me, I love all of you. I have you in my prayers always.

It is my honor to have been able to interview you. You have done so much for so many of us and words cannot express the gratitude and respect many of us have for you. For the officers who never met you, after reading this interview, they will understand why your style and message is an inspiration to many of us. Your legacy will live forever. Thank you for your service and commitment to our profession. You are the greatest of all time.

Thank you, Danny.