The Port Catches a Rising Star

By Lenis Rodrigues, Media Relations Staff

 Transportation wasn’t a career path that Jeffrey Brauner originally considered. He thought of becoming an architect, or maybe a teacher. It wasn’t until he attended graduate school that he realized working in the transportation industry would become his professional passion.

For the past three years with the Port Authority’s Port Department, Brauner has thrown himself into his career, helping to improve the ways in which goods are moved and tracked across New York Harbor. For those efforts, he was recognized as one of Progressive Railroading Magazine’s “20 Rising Stars” in the railroad industry, and will be profiled in the magazine’s September issue.

The honorees are chosen for their contributions to the railroad industry, career achievements, demonstrated leadership, professional association activity or community involvement. Brauner said he had no idea he was nominated for the award, but upon hearing it, it brought back memories of the 2017 selection of his friend and colleague, Winnie Chang at PATH, for the same honor.

“It’s a great feeling and shows the opportunities that the Port Authority provide to young professionals like me and Winnie,” Brauner said.  “We get to work on important projects and initiatives, and are given an opportunity to make a difference, which is what attracted me to the job.”

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A principal transportation planner in the Port Department, Brauner was cited by the magazine for developing a comprehensive operations database that tracks the New York and New Jersey Railroad Marine Division, to better analyze the performance of the last remaining carfloat service across the harbor. The database also enables the Port Department to track tugboat and railcar moves, as well as monitor other factors, such as the weather.

Brauner conducts operational and financial analysis on the short line railroad that moves rail cars from Greenville Yard in Jersey City to Brooklyn. One main benefit of his work is contributing to lower port-generated emissions by reducing the region’s long-term reliance on trucking as the primary freight transportation mode.

After finishing his graduate school studies in public affairs and policy from the State University of New York at Albany, Brauner served as a legislative intern for BlueGreen Alliance, the Washington, D.C.-based environmental group, where he studied federal transportation policy. He then landed a summer internship with the Port Authority at John F. Kennedy International Airport, working in Airport Operations, and returned to the agency as a Leadership Fellow the following year.

Patrick Thrasher, Brauner’s supervisor said, “Jeffrey’s dedication to his work and his colleagues has enabled the Port’s rail group to perform at the highest level. He works effortlessly across departments and is a great asset to the team and department.”

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Brauner didn’t have his mind set on working on rail or port projects when he started at the Port Authority, but developed a strong interest in the Port Department, sought an assignment and has been there ever since. As part of his job, he’s worked closely with the Law, Finance and Engineering departments, as well as New York New Jersey Rail staff and crew, to keep initiatives and projects moving in the right direction.

With his Port Authority career occupying much of his time, Brauner has had less time for one of the other passions in life – playing the trumpet in a college band.

“I certainly miss performing on stage, as there is truly nothing that can compare to the feeling of performing in front of a crowd. The closest I get to that today is karaoke,” he said.  “I still practice on my own for fun, and go see my friends’ bands perform whenever they are in the city. In my mind, I will always be a musician so long as I keep practicing.”

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An early hint of his future career.

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By Lenis Rodrigues and Claire Elamrousi, Media Relations Staff

During his 13-year Port Authority Police Department career at the George Washington Bridge, Edwin Berdecia has proven to be an exceptional police officer. But he’s really distinguished himself in one specific area — taking impaired drivers off the road.

Berdecia has made an estimated 900 arrests during his GWB overnight shifts of motorists suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. He accounted for 40 percent of all DUI arrests at the bridge in 2017 alone. For his accomplishments, Berdecia was honored this year as “Top Cop” by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, one of six “Distinguished Recipient” awards the officer has received during his PAPD service.PAPD Top Cop

“These awards give me a feeling of compassion and empathy, since MADD is composed of volunteers, survivors and family members who have lost loved ones to motor vehicle accidents caused by impaired drivers,” Berdecia said.

From a young age, Berdecia, who lives in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, had a desire to participate in public service. He enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces, and then continued his career at the United States Postal Service, where he served first as a clerk and later as a police officer. He joined the PAPD in 2005.

In 2012, Berdecia set a new department record at the bridge for DUI arrests, with 55 arrests that year. The officer bested that mark with 119 DUI arrests in 2014.

“From my experience, Officer Berdecia has proven himself to be one of our most conscientious, hardworking and professional officers,” said PAPD Chief of Police Operations Emilio Gonzalez, the officer’s former commanding officer at the GWB.  “Eddie is the consummate professional, who has dedicated his career to protecting the millions of people who cross the bridge every year.”

PAPD officers working at the Port Authority’s bridges and tunnels are entrusted with a wide range of responsibilities, including general patrol duties, investigating unusual activities and motor vehicle accidents and monitoring traffic, as well as ensuring the safety and property of motorists and pedestrians using Port Authority facilities.

Berdecia takes this last responsibility very seriously.  “I have used the opportunity that different law enforcement agencies have given me during my career path to protect the lives of the innocent, and those who have used bad judgment and gotten behind the wheel while impaired,” he said.

It was that PAPD philosophy, and the record of accomplishment that backs it up, that impressed officials at MADD.

“Port Authority Police officers take their work very seriously by remaining vigilant at these crossings,” said Maria Esteves, who coordinates the Annual Statewide Law Enforcement Award Recognition program for MADD. “They are protecting the community by stopping impaired drivers, preventing crashes and saving lives.”

For his police colleagues, Berdecia has a simple message. “Don’t underestimate the power you have by virtue of wearing the police uniform,” he said. “Wear the uniform with pride and put that power you are vested with to good use.”

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A Special Place, Fit for a Special Day

By Joe Iorio and Lenis Rodrigues, Media Relations Staff

Pride and devotion to service are characteristics that have defined generations of Port Authority Police Department officers. At a solemn early morning ceremony Wednesday at the 9/11 Museum, members of the new class of PAPD recruits were reminded of those attributes as they received police shields and identification cards, ahead of their graduation Friday from the Police Academy.

The ceremony was doubly significant because it was the first time a PAPD class had the opportunity to mark their entry into the Department at a special World Trade Center event to honor 37 PAPD officers who perished in the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

For PAPD recruits Kara Schmidt and Thomas Leather, the memory of 9/11 is all too familiar.


Kara Schmidt and her dad

“I was in my 7th grade technology class when my teacher brought a TV into our classroom,” said Schmidt, whose father was a Port Authority cop and 9/11 first-responder. “I actually watched the second tower get hit and in my mind, all I could think about was my Dad. I didn’t see him for a few months afterwards because he was part of the cleanup. It was about six or seven months where I saw him sporadically.”

Schmidt’s father, William “Billy” Schmidt, entered the Police Academy on June 27, 1994 and 24 years later, with her mother in attendance, Schmidt received the badge number and shield of her late father, who died eight years ago.

Asked about what the ceremony meant to her, Schmidt replied, “It means everything to me – I’m honored and I feel blessed to be here. To have his badge number, to be able to wear that and represent him and the department — words can’t describe what it means to me.”

Leather told a similar story of his father, a 32-year PAPD veteran and 9/11 first-responder who was on hand yesterday to present his son with his shield.


Thomas Leather stands beside his dad’s patrol car

“I was in eighth grade and I went home to my mother crying,” said Leather. “My dad was in the pipe band. So, he lost a few members that day. My dad had to play at all of the funerals. Just watching that and seeing him be so strong through it all really inspired me to continue down this path. He was my role model. My father is who I want to be.”

In the auditorium, Port Authority Chief Security Officer John Bilich and PAPD Police Superintendent Edward Cetnar delivered sobering remarks to the new class, reminding them of their duty to protect the region and act responsibly while upholding the legacy of officers who’ve served before.

“We welcome these dedicated, highly trained police officers to the Port Authority Police Department, where they will now take on the challenge of protecting the traveling public,” Bilich said.  “During the past six months, these new officers have received some of the most extensive training of any police agency in the country, and we look forward to having them join our team.”

Group Shot PAPD Blog

(left to right) PAPD Superintendent Edward Cetnar, PAPD Officer Tom Koster, Bonnie Schmidt , Kara Schmidt, Thomas Leather and Joe Leather

Following the indoors ceremony where the recruits were sworn in and given their shields, the class gathered at the South Pool and honored the fallen officers by placing 47 roses where their names are inscribed on the memorial. In addition to the 37 victims of 9/11, 10 other PAPD officers have lost their lives in the line of duty.  Cetnar was joined by police recruits Kenneth Dietrich and John Kinzel in laying a wreath at the site.

The graduating class of 112 comprises 93 men and 19 women, including 77 college graduates, seven military veterans and 10 “legacy” recruits with relatives who currently or previously served as PAPD officers. The formal graduation is scheduled for tomorrow at the Dunn Sports Center in Elizabeth, N.J.


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