Camden Mayor Submits Plan To Layoff Entire Police Force

CAMDEN, NJ &#8211 Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd submitted a plan Thursday to the state Civil Service Commission to lay off the city’s entire police force, paving the way for a controversial Camden County-run department and potentially setting up a legal battle with police unions.

The firing would be the second mass layoff in two years of officers in a city that has seen a record 61 homicides so far this year and is perennially ranked among the nation’s most dangerous.

In January 2011, Redd laid off 168 officers – nearly half the force then – because of a $26 million city budget deficit, but many were later rehired.

Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd submitted a plan Thursday to the state Civil Service Commission to lay off the city’s entire police force, paving the way for a controversial Camden County-run department and potentially setting up a legal battle with police unions.

The firing would be the second mass layoff in two years of officers in a city that has seen a record 61 homicides so far this year and is perennially ranked among the nation’s most dangerous.

In January 2011, Redd laid off 168 officers – nearly half the force then – because of a $26 million city budget deficit, but many were later rehired.

County officials have said they would only rehire up to 49 percent of the current force so that the terms of the existing contract don’t extend to the new department.

Dan Keashen, a county spokesman, said no officer would be laid off until the new force reached about 250 officers. In the process, county officials expect some current city officers to migrate to the new department, with some of them taking on training duties for new hires.

“The nucleus of the Camden County police department will be from the Camden City department,” Keashen said.

He said 100 of about 800 people who are in the application process for the new force are current Camden officers.

Citing the disruptions caused by Hurricane Sandy, county officials Wednesday extended their deadline for receiving applications for the new force by six weeks, to Jan. 15.

In a statement, Redd encouraged all qualified city officers to apply to the county force’s so-called Metro Division, which would only police Camden.

“The majority of the officers have served our residents and city with dignity and I hope that they will continue to do so under the new department,” Redd said.

The mayor plans to hold a news conference Friday morning about the plan.

One Camden superior officer with more than 20 years of experience in the city said he did not “want any part” of the new force.

The officer, who is not authorized to speak for the department, said he feared Camden would lose veteran officers who intimately know the streets of the nine-square-mile city of 77,000 residents.

“The loss of experienced officers is going to be a detriment to the city,” he said. “I always said that I wanted to leave this place a little better than when I came in, but that’s not going to be the case.”

Redd justified the city’s move in part by citing a litany of inconclusive negotiations with the union on a new contract. The old contract expired four years ago.

Union officials said they have offered concessions. Williamson said when talks stalled recently that his union filed for arbitration.

The department’s 60 nonuniformed employees will not be laid off, but transferred to a newly established Department of Public Safety, according to the plan. Details on the new department were not immediately available.

The Civil Service Commission has up to 30 days to act on the plan once it is received, said Peter Lyden, a spokesman. If the panel approves the plan, the city has to give a 45-day notice of layoffs.

County officials have said the new force, while larger, would cost about the same as the present department, in part because they expect savings of $14 million from eliminating extras in the current contract, such as shift differentials, and from increasing the use of lower-paid civilians to take on duties such as crime scene investigations and acting as police aides.

But officials have not released a detailed financial plan for the new force, infuriating City Council member Brian Coleman.

“We have not seen the benefits other than, we are going to see more officers. . . . But at what expense?” Coleman said. “That’s all I’ve been asking: Show me the numbers.

“If no one has seen the numbers . . . how can Council consciously agree to this?” he added.

Camden’s police budget for the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, was nearly $60 million – more than a third of the $167 million city budget.

An additional $5.0 million to $6.5 million in start-up money will be needed to begin paying salaries for the initial hires and to purchase equipment, officials have said.

Corrales said the city, county, and state are still in negotiations on getting the start-up money from the state. On Wednesday, county officials blamed Sandy for the delay.

Gov. Christie has long expressed support for the new force, but has also asked Camden to wean itself from state aid and has slowly cut the amount of aid Trenton provides.

The governor’s office said no final decision has been made on a state contribution to start-up costs.

So far, no suburban town has said it will join Camden in participating in the county-run force.

From The Philadelphia Inquirer