EDISON, NJ – In an extraordinary cry for help, the president of Edison’s police union Tuesday called his department “broken” and pleaded for intervention from county or state law enforcement officials.
Sal Della Fave, president of Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 75, said in a letter to The Star-Ledger and in an interview that politically driven infighting over power and promotions has spawned lawsuit after lawsuit and left morale on the force “at rock bottom.”
Della Fave laid much of the blame on Chief Thomas Bryan, but the union president also chided Mayor Antonia Ricigliano, the township’s public safety director and a frequent critic of the chief, for making promotions “the old-fashioned way: politically.”
“Unfortunately, oversight is necessary,” Della Fave said. “Edison needs someone to get the police department back on track.”
An official with the State Policemen’s Benevolent Association called Della Fave’s plea unprecedented, saying he could not recall a PBA chapter in New Jersey ever advocating for oversight from an outside agency.
Della Fave’s letter comes a week after Bryan asked acting Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey to appoint a monitor to insulate him from what he termed political interference from the mayor.
Ricigliano also has met with Carey, citing a failure of leadership in the department. The prosecutor declined to comment Tuesday.
The continuing drama paints Edison as one of the more dysfunctional police departments in New Jersey. The Star-Ledger published a two-part series on the force in December, documenting a history of bad behavior by some officers and a civil war that has cost taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees and settlements.
Tensions among the factions erupted anew late last month when an officer was charged with five counts of attempted murder for allegedly setting fire to the home of a captain. The officer, Michael Dotro, remains jailed on $2 million cash bail.
Prosecutors have said Dotro was angry at the captain, Mark Anderko, for ordering him to undergo a psychological evaluation and for transferring him from nights to days. The move followed Dotro’s 11th excessive force complaint in a decade.
Another Edison officer, Alan Varady, was suspended last week after he was found to be drinking on the job. Varady was subsequently charged with driving under the influence.
Della Fave’s letter made no mention of the recent disciplinary cases.
He focused chiefly on Bryan and, to a lesser extent, Ricigliano. Della Fave elaborated on the letter in an interview, saying the fighting has stifled any hope of progress and reform.
“I would much rather the chief or the mayor take the bull by the horns, but they’re too busy fighting to get anything done,” he said in the interview.
“Let’s get this bad behavior to end, and let’s make the department fair for everyone,” Della Fave said. “If we can do that, we don’t need anyone from the outside to come in, but if all we’re going to do is flex our muscles on the school lot, then we need a teacher to come in and say, ‘Break it up.’”
The union president challenged the mayor and the council to pass an ordinance barring public employees from working on or contributing to political campaigns. He also pushed for an outside firm or agency to take over promotions.
“Politics is the reason for the ‘civil war’ and the lawsuits in the PD,” Della Fave wrote in the letter. “Get rid of the politics, the others go away.”
The stance is something of an about-face for the union, which spent heavily four years ago to secure Ricigliano’s victory as mayor. Numerous members of the union also campaigned for her at the time. Ricigliano did not return a call seeking comment.
Bryan responded forcefully to Della Fave’s letter, saying he has strived to take politics out of the police department and that the union has fought efforts to increase accountability and professionalism on the 168-member force.
“I have zero confidence in the PBA president’s leadership due to the fact he continually supports bad behavior by a faction of officers,” the chief said. “When was the last time he reported bad behavior? Why do I have to hear it from the public?”
Bryan said he fully supports an ordinance barring public employees from donating to or working on political campaigns.
Asked why, then, he recently attended a $200-a-head fundraiser for Councilman and mayoral candidate Thomas Lankey, Bryan said he wanted to see the two bands performing. He said he has not and will not donate to Lankey’s campaign.
“I get along with Tom Lankey. I get along with all the council members,” Bryan said. “But I don’t insert politics into the police department.”
From The Star Ledger