Could Jersey City face a shortage of police officers?
That’s what Detective Joe Cossolini, the Jersey City police union’s new president, is worried about.
Cossolini, who was elected head of the Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association last month, has a number of goals for his tenure atop the union. He wants to improve the union’s outreach and communication with the public, and hopes to open a new office on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, “where we can be right in the middle of the community that needs us the most,” he said.
But he is especially concerned about the future of the strength of the Jersey City Police Department’s ranks. Recruiting and retaining new police officers, he said, “is going to be the biggest challenge of our union and the city.”
At a union vote last month, Cossolini’s 13-person slate won a decisive victory over that of incumbent president Carmine Disbrow, clearing the way for Cossolini to take the helm of the 730-member union.
“I want him and his board to do well, because a strong union means a better JCPD, which means a safer Jersey City,” Disbrow, who was first elected in 2012, said in a statement.
Cossolini transferred from the Scotch Plains Police Department in 2005 and began his Jersey City career “on a midnight tour” in the city’s South District. After five years there, he spent roughly two years on the street crime unit and became a detective in 2012.
Asked why he campaigned for union leader, he said, “I just think that the members needed some change.”
His entrance comes at a fraught time for policing around the country. A nationwide reckoning over police killings of Black Americans has left many skeptical about the role of police officers and led to calls for cutting funding for departments.
In 2008, Cossolini himself shot and killed a man during a traffic stop. Police officers said the man raised a gun and did not obey orders, though witness testimony of the incident differed. Prosecutors did not charge any officers involved.
“Although I was cleared by the Hudson County Prosecutor and my actions were deemed totally justified, this tragedy was one of the most difficult events of my life,” Cossolini said.
He maintained that the more police officers, the safer the city is. And he expressed concern about the thousands of cops that have retired or quit in cities around the country in the wake of protests.
“If I were not a police officer, and I watched the news — any news cycle for the last couple months — the last thing I’d probably want to become is a police officer, because of the way the media vilifies police officers,” Cossolini said.
Roughly 10 officers left the JCPD last year, Cossolini said, and he’s worried that number could grow. Earlier this year, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law that will allow municipalities to exempt police recruits from the requirement of taking a civil service exam. Cossolini believes that law will make it easier for officers to transfer to other departments.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of police officers take advantage to leave an inner-city police department where their pay isn’t as good to go to a suburban police department where the pay is a little better, the schedule is better, medical benefits are a little bit better,” Cossolini said. “So there’s some challenges coming.”
Cossolini praised Fulop’s push to hire more officers, saying he hoped the roughly 900-officer department would reach 1,000 soon. But the city and the union have had differences as well, most visibly over elected officials’ push to create a civilian oversight board of the police that would have investigatory authority that includes subpoena powers.
After the New Jersey Supreme Court stripped Newark’s oversight board of much of its power, state legislators are pushing a bill that would codify powers for oversight boards. Last month, the Jersey City city council passed an ordinance calling for the creation of such a body if and when it became legal.
Just weeks after the council passed that resolution, the police union sued the city, demanding it “cease and desist from interfering with the terms and conditions of employment” of the police. Cossolini declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said he wants to work with the city on the issue of civilian oversight.
“I think we all need to come into a room and figure out the best way for this to work so that it works going forward, it doesn’t get stonewalled and it doesn’t fail,” he said.
In an email, Jersey City spokeswoman Kim Wallace-Scalcione said the city “is looking forward to working with Joe Cossolini and his team to find ways that we can improve trust and accountability.”
“We are optimistic that working together we will be able to continue making Jersey City a positive example for the state of New Jersey,” Wallace-Scalcione said.