NEWARK, NJ A newly instituted policy for city police officers may force them to deliver a less than ideal response to victims of assault and other minor crimes looking to make a complaint: Take it to court.
In an Oct. 23 memo obtained by NJ Advance Media, Chief Anthony Campos informed officers that they should refer any victim complaining about crimes such as simple assault, criminal mischief and harassment to file complaints in municipal court, rather than creating a formal report themselves.
The strategy was instituted “in order to streamline operations and make better usage of police resources”, Campos said in the memo.
It also covers disorderly persons offenses such as improper behavior and offensive language, as well as complaints about bad checks and false information provided to police. The new procedure allows for exceptions for any crime that involves domestic violence or could constitute the level of an indictable offense.
In a statement, the department said the practice of referring certain types of complaints to court was “not new”, and instituted in order to keep more officers actively on patrol.
“We are not curtailing complainants’ wish to file complaints at the precinct level but are affording perspective complainants the opportunity to fast track their complaints by filing themselves,” the department said.
Fraternal Order of Police President James Stewart Jr. called the policy “another example that we don’t have enough cops out on the street to get the job done.”
“It’s the administration trying to do they best they can with the manpower they have,” he said.
Stewart added that the department’s roughly 800 officers routinely struggle to keep pace with calls during their shift, sometimes forcing residents complaining about break-ins or other disturbances to wait hours before speaking with an investigator.
“We just keep losing guys. Nobody is ever added,” he said. “I think citizens in other communities, when they call the police, they expect the police to come there and handle the job. There’s not too many places, I don’t think, where you call the police and they show up and just refer you to somebody else.”
The department has long-standing policies to refer complaints about car burglaries or accidents that do not result in injuries or impede traffic to a desk officer at the nearest precinct in order to keep more patrol officers available for other calls, according to Stewart.
Mayor Ras Baraka and other officials have on multiple occasions acknowledged a need for more bodies in the police department.
Since taking office earlier this year, Baraka has made moves to take officers out of specialized units and behind desks and onto the streets. He also swore in 35 new members of the force in September.
Last week, he announced a proposal to cut overtime, detective stipends and other payments. The mayor said the proposal would make room to hire 65 new officers, but the idea has sparked a debate between Baraka and the Fraternal Order of Police, which is currently renegotiating its contract with the city.