If it aint broke, don’t fix it: The replacement of Camden city’s police force

by: Philip Anagnostos

If it aint broke, don’t fix it: The replacement of Camden city’s police force

Introduction

            The city of Camden in New Jersey has recently had their police force begin the process of being abolished in order to pave the way for the new Metropolitan Division.  The Metropolitan Division will one day run the whole county of Camden’s police force.  This has raised concern and elevated aggravation has been raised for many local police officers and citizens in regards to how this will affect them.  The fact of the matter, is this theoretically seems like a good idea, but the lack of support in combination of the method of achieving this goal will only make things much worse before they have a chance to begin to improve.

Those in favor

           The main reason given by legislatures for this proposal is that it can reallocate funds to create new jobs for additional patrol officers, given the assumption that additional patrolmen will make the area safer.  This is to be accomplished by centralizing administrative and logistical positions throughout the county.  Camden County has thirty seven townships, by replacing all of these administrative offices and centralizing other resources, the funds will be used to pay for the roughly 250 new positions created for patrol officers who will generally be working in the city of Camden.  They support this idea given the assumption that these additional officers will be able to patrol more efficiently and keep the streets safer (Camden is already at fifty eight homicides and counting this year).

With these additional officers, overtime will be decreased, saving the county more money.  With all of these savings, all of the officers will be provided with more training opportunities and additional resources, providing the county with a better quality of service being administered by the police.  Smaller cities such as Lindenwold or Laurel Springs will be able to benefit from these new opportunities which they could not afford before.  Special school programs such as D.A.R.E., that were threatened of being abolished are also going to have additional support with the reallocation of funds.

With a metropolitan division covering more area, this allows one police force to possess more jurisdiction.  With increased jurisdiction, this will eliminate some issues (mostly bureaucratic) that sometimes hinder police investigations.  With a broader jurisdiction, the county will be able to allocate manpower more efficiently by placing more patrolmen in higher crime areas in lieu of having an abundance of officers patrolling the areas with lower crime rates.  Also, with this ability to allocate manpower more efficiently, overtime pay will be drastically reduced; decreasing the annual budget.  Today, neighboring cities help each other out when it comes to overwhelming incidents.  Having one central dispatch/control center will be able to increase response times by removing the delay in relaying messages to neighboring cities.

Against

            Although the Metro Division was proposed to police all of Camden County, none of the other cities are on board with the idea, keeping it only in the city of Camden for the time being.  The fact that Camden is alone in this process raises the question if there will ever be voluntary cohesion with surrounding townships, or if they will be “voluntold” to participate.  Dana Redd, mayor of Camden has decided to initiate this transition by abolishing the current Camden police force, followed by rehiring some of the former patrolmen with the additional of new patrolmen.  What people are unaware of however, an obstacle in having the funds for these salaries, is the current union contracts.  Keeping these current contracts will remove the opportunity from the county to renegotiate the salaries of the current officers for a lesser salary.  But have no fear, the State of New Jersey was able to provide a solution to this problem.  Governor Christie has indirectly placed a temporary ban on collective bargaining, which is now prohibiting these new officers from forming unions that generally protect their pension and health care benefits.  The state of New Jersey is currently holding the power to regulate pension and health care policies by legislatively setting standards for all employers to follow.  If the city of Camden were to hire back more than fifty percent of its current police force, it would then be required to honor the current contracts in place.  Unlucky for the current 270 police officers, Camden plans to only hire back less than fifty percent so they can create new contracts with lower salaries, ruining the lives of those who will be laid off and those who are considered fortunate enough to be rehired.  Without an understanding of this proposed process, people are speculating their own ideas.  John Gregor, vice-president of the Camden County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 76, compares this to how Woodlynne police department was disbanded years ago.  Collingswood subcontracted the police duties for Woodlynne for a few years, and then Woodlynne reformed its prior police force, with the newly reduced salaries since the former union was abolished with its police force several years prior.  “The concern is that it starts in Camden City and spreads outward,” Gregor said.

The county also intends not to use the Civil Service process to select its new officers.  Many are finding this to be violating Civil Service Act.  The Civil Service act was created to inform of the standards of conduct, collective bargaining, and other unionized rights that provide occupational security based on merit.

In my opinion, whenever the term “morale” is used, it is because there is a problem with it.  The removal of the right of representation is not only immoral and borderline illegal, but it also decreases the morale of those who have sworn to protect and serve the citizens with their lives.  When people compare satisfaction with their jobs to their performance, there is a direct correlation between the two.  There is no positive reassurance given to the current police officers and prospective ones that they will be cared for and not taken for granted.

             According to Fred Davis, a retired Camden City police officer, each township has different ordinances that, in some cases conflict with each other.  For example: in the township of Delran (§ 231-3. Prohibited acts.), threatening language is not authorized at public parks, but in the township of Cinnaminson (a neighboring city in the same county) there is no ordinance restricting such activities.  If both townships were protected by a metropolitan division, the officers would have to work twice as hard to effectively enforce such regulations and be able to differentiate the difference between the townships unless the county was to agree and establish the same set of ordinances across the board.  This creates the problem of how can the metro police be trained properly in enforcing these ordinances effectively?

Surrounding cities are refusing to willingly join the metro division because they believe that they will lose power over their own police in their town since a central office will be overseeing the whole county.  Each township has their own ordinances which is not necessarily the same for their neighboring cities.  Concerns with the neighboring cities are the issue with who was going to pay for all of this.  Each city receives their annual budget from the state, but if this were to change, the whole county would receive just one budget from the state.  The problems most people are having with this the additional patrolmen is their belief that they will be allocated to Camden, and not the rest of the county, and the fact that the City of Camden has an increased rate of citizens living off of some sort of financial assistance, whether it be welfare, unemployment, etc.  These citizens are not paying taxes, but will now be provided with public services on someone else’s dime.  This is causing uproar with the average neighboring taxpayer since it appears that the allocation of these newly hired officers main focus will be the city of Camden.  This suggests to other townships that response times will actually decrease since the main focus of these newly hired patrolmen, whom will be working in the city of Camden, making the problems of Camden everyone else’s.  This is supported by the increased violent crime rate in Camden, which leads everyone to believe that the whole Metro division’s main focus will be the city of Camden, instead of focusing on less severe issues.  This is just adding insult to injury by having neighboring taxpayers pay for this suggested decrease of a police presence.

Police officers are concerned, not only with their newly acquired lack of representation, but their loss in pay as well.  Unless smiles and winning personalities are going to start paying their bills, people will not be in favor of a pay cut.  Changes will be made to the shift differentials as well, in the sense that there will not be any anymore.  Officers will now be paid at the same rate for working holidays, nights, and weekends now instead of having additional financial compensation like most police forces offer and like they had before.  No shift differential with the combination of reduced overtime is just another method to reduced salaries along with the pay cuts.

According to the Camden County homepage, there will be a centralized command center, handling the workload of the whole county, which is supposed to eliminate administrative positions in exchange for officer positions.  But are we sure that one office is capable of handling all of the administrative, logistics, and special teams?  If the metro division is supposed to combine police forces, how can you eliminate the majority of the administrative offices to handle the increase manpower?

Hurdles

            Even if this idea were to be carried out as intended, we cannot allow the ends to justify the means.  I, of course, am talking about the horrible methods in which they plan to execute this changeover.  How can legislators treat the police officers that protect them in a way so unfair just to save a quick buck?  It is understandable that pleasing everyone is near impossible, but that does not justify the dismantling of lives and careers of the current officers who have been honorably serving and providing us with safety.  This is one of those situations where the ends do not justify the means, unless you believe that the killing of a single innocent child for the purpose of world peace is a good idea.  Even then, who has the authority and responsibility to make that decision, and why is that person running for president?  It is astonishing that this proposal was able to be passed.  Have we all become so greedy that we place a dollar value on everything, by inconsiderately infringing the rights of others?  Could this idea actually work? What would follow afterward, metropolitan public schools and other public services?  Although I am a firm believer that everyone should continue to hold their jobs based on merit, I am morally inclined to have to honor the contracts or promises that I make.  Altering the terms without consideration and agreement from both sides is breaking them.  Camden County and the State were able to weasel their way around maintaining their integrity.  In doing so, they have thrown away the trust of their people, which, in my opinion, my faith will not be easily restored by a balanced budget.

Works Cited:

Matt Skoufalos, (August 22, 2012). Protesters Picket Closed-Door Meeting on Camden Metro      Police. Retrieved from

http://gloucestertownship.patch.com/articles/protesters-picket-closed-door-meeting-on camden-metro-police-b156903f#photo-11087767

Davis, Fred. Rutgers University, Camden Campus. 08 Nov. 2012.

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