HAMILTON TOWNSHIP, NJ &# 150; Municipalities continue to use part-time officers as an affordable way to add manpower to their police departments, but critics point to safety concerns of officers and say this cannot be the future of policing in New Jersey.
The trend of hiring Class II police officers has gained momentum over the last five years as police departments and municipalities faced budget hits and layoffs. Hamilton Township, Galloway, Egg Harbor, Little Egg Harbor, Vineland, Lower and Middle townships and Atlantic City have all turned to cost-effective, part-time manpower once used only in shore towns to beef up police during the busy summer months.
Hamilton Township will soon hire another round of Class II police officers in addition to the three who are employed in the department, officials said.
Mayor Roger Silva said hiring the part-time Class II officers for the 49-member force is a much more affordable option than adding a fully sworn police officer at full-time status. Silva pointed to the down economy and said all governments are trying to do more with less, including police protection.
Silva’s youngest son, Christopher Silva, 31, is a police officer in Mullica Township and started his career in Hamilton Township as a Class II officer.
“Look, we understand the opportunity for Class IIs. There are a lot of people who go that route. Look at the shore towns they rely on them heavily and they do a great job,” Silva said.
Officials stress the hiring of full-time, fully sworn police officers has not stopped in municipalities like Hamilton Township. Instead, as the department loses full-time officers through attrition, the openings are filled with a new fully sworn officer, said Detective Frank Schalek.
There are instances with Class II officers do move into a full-time position, but that is dependent on them successfully completing the department’s hiring process for a full-time officer, Schalek said.
Unlike full-time officers making larger incomes, Class II officers are paid at an hourly rate that ranges from an average of $14 to $18 an hour. Another savings for hiring part-time manpower is that it includes no taxpayer-funded health benefits or pension payments.
In Hamilton Township, similar to many other municipalities, the duties of Class II officers are prisoner transports, prisoner processing and courtroom security, said Schalek.
Hamilton Township began hiring Class II officers in the early 2000s, said Schalek. Full-time police officers in the department earn an a salary of $30,600 while in the academy. After graduation, the salary is increased to $40,800. Class II officers start at $14.10 an hour and max out at $17 per hour, Schalek said.
As part-time employees, Class II officers are not entitled to health insurance or union representation, Schalek said.
But help wanted advertisements for law enforcement positions these days in New Jersey do not offer immediate full-time status.
Hamilton Township Police Class II Officer Chris Bell said it is easier to obtain a part-time position because there are more available Class II jobs than there are full-time positions.
Bell, who holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, said he is hopeful he will be selected to become a full-time fully sworn police officer in Hamilton Township and he’s not worried about his prospects in law enforcement.
“At age 22, I feel I have plenty of time to find full-time employment,” he said.
In recent years, neighboring Egg Harbor Township also turned to hiring Class II officers.
“It is a more affordable option especially when you’re in a tight budget year. We have not stopped hiring officers at a full-time status, in fact, we have an officer right now in the academy for full-time status,” said Egg Harbor Township Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough.
McCullough said the township uses Class IIs for assignments that don’t necessarily require a full-time officer for, like duty in the municipal court. In 2011, Vineland and Atlantic City said they would use the manpower to handle lighter duties, freeing up regular officers for other jobs.
Thomas DePaul, director of the Cape May County Police Academy said two Special Law Enforcement Officer (SLEO) classes go through the academy each year and a class of 59 recruits will graduate in May. Over the next several months he said about 300 new recruits will come for testing for another class that starts in May.
DePaul said it’s common to see shore towns with the need for officers turning to part-time manpower, but now the trend is being seen in departments in year-round communities on the mainland. Including 15 SLEO recruits in the academy from Atlantic City, this year, the academy could graduate about 150 SLEO officers, DePaul said.
Egg Harbor Township Police Detective Ray Theriault, the president of Mainland Local PBA 77 who represents Hamilton Township Police Department, said over the last five years his department has hired about 7 Class II officers — and the same number of full-time officers during this period.
“Towns are now using this as a kind of a proving ground to gauge a person before they would hire them full-time, but the problem is (the officers) will do anything to get the job. It’s not just a safe situation for them. They get abused by the departments because they know they want the job and they will do whatever they want them to do,” Theriault said.
DePaul said the Class II hiring trend that has gained momentum over the last five to six years. The job serves as an audition for the part-time officer as the municipality is making an investment of 25 to 30 years in an officer once they are hired full-time.
“Towns are able to supplement manpower with so many part time officers, it’s cheaper and they get a lot of specialized training. You get to see what this officer is capable of, how they handle their training and how they perform under pressure,” he said.
Class II officers are given similar powers as full-time police officers, but they cannot take their weapons home with them unless approved by the chief of the department. These part-time officers do not possess police powers during their off-duty time, Theriault said.
In Hamilton Township, if a Class II officer is killed or injured in the line of duty they do qualify for life insurance which is 1½ percent of their annual base salary through the state’s Defined Contribution Retirement Program, Schalek said.
“Placing full-time officers with part-time officers is not only dangerous for them but dangerous for us too. Some of these Class IIs are retired officers, but for the most part it’s younger officers who are trying to prove themselves any way they can,” Theriault said.
While not paid nearly as much as regular officers, Class IIs can face the same dangers on the job as their full-time counterparts.
Cliffside Park Special Police Officer Stephen Petruzzello was struck and killed by a vehicle last month while on duty.
“Officer Petruzzello was tragically killed in the line of duty and the family essentially receives nothing. No pension benefits and a very limited life insurance benefit, if any. The town received very cheap labor at the expense of a young man’s life,” State Policemen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Colligan said.
“Couldn’t that happen to anybody? It could happen to you or me or someone walking on the street. It’s not just the policemen who are hired part time and are at risk for something like this to happen,” Silva said of Petruzzello’s death last month.
Colligan said the Class II program has worked well in shore communities for years and the union understands the need in those communities as the population soars in the summer months and an increased law enforcement presence is needed, but its unchecked expansion has raised many issues.
But he called the expansion of the program into other communities “a ticking time bomb.”
“If a community is willing to take the risk on policing in their community with a short-term budget fix and take advantage of officers with much less training and experience then they will live with the legal, financial and emotional consequences for that decision for a long time to come. The next tragedy is right around the corner,” Colligan said.