TRENTON, NJ – Gov. Chris Christie’s recommendation that Trenton follow Camden’s lead and disband its police department, replacing it with a county force, was criticized Thursday by a police union as an attempt to blame it for standing in the way of a solution to the capital city’s growing violence.
The state Policemen’s Benevolent Association acknowledged Trenton is suffering from a rise in violent crime but said its situation is different from Camden’s.
The PBA said the layoff of more than 100 officers due to budget cuts and the failure of Mayor Tony Mack to step aside while awaiting trial on federal corruption charges are at the root of Trenton’s problems, not “public sector union politics” as the governor suggested.
“I, quite honestly, can’t comprehend how the governor could somehow ignore the incompetence of city leaders and cuts in state aid as Trenton’s problem and turn it into a chance to bash the officers who are so desperately trying to keep themselves and the public safe as they work understaffed,” said Anthony Wieners, the state union president.
“This situation calls for more cops, not political messages designed to perpetuate the myth that a union, particularly the state PBA, is somehow an impediment to a solution,” Wieners said.
The PBA president said the Camden takeover was all about breaking the police union contract in that city. Regionalization in Camden allowed officials to shed costly provisions of old union contracts, including longevity pay and shift differentials, and put more officers on the street.
In Trenton, the union said there are no contract disputes and the state’s focus should be on providing money to hire more officers.
Trenton has already experienced 30 homicides this year, one short of the record set in 2005, and shootings are on the rise.
In response to growing gun violence, the attorney general announced last week that state police, already a presence in the city, would join local police in patrolling high-crime neighborhoods. The announcement came the same day two Trenton detectives were wounded, one critically, by a man wanted for beating his girlfriend. The gunman was killed in the exchange.
Christie said Wednesday that Trenton should look to Camden as a model if it wants to stem violence over the long term. The homicide rate is down sharply in Camden so far this year.
He said sending in state police to deal with surges in violence helps only in the short term.
Christie challenged county political leaders to muster the political courage to establish a county force.
“Let’s stop playing the public sector union politics and let’s start playing the public safety priority in this state,” he said.
Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini Jr. told The Times of Trenton the idea is worth studying.
From The Associated Press via Philly.com