Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 33
 
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
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Size of Police Force Comes Under Debate at Borough Council

Dilshanie Perera

With only 26 officers now on staff, the size of the Princeton Borough Police force became a source of debate at last week’s Council meeting.

The August 14 resignation of Patrolman Garrett Brown brings to a close the administrative hearing against him. Accused of serving alcohol to minors at a party in Keene, New York in October 2007, Mr. Brown had been charged under a New York state statute, but the charges were dropped in October 2008. The internal administrative hearing began in March and Mr. Brown had been placed on restricted duty.

“We had budgeted for 32 positions this year,” Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi said, adding that right now the Borough is three-fourths of the way through its police overtime budget, but is nowhere near the salary budget cap.

Suggesting that the administration begin an interview process for patrol officers in order to be able to bring new hires onto the police staff by the end of the year, Mr. Bruschi said such a move would streamline proceedings for Council and the new police chief should they wish to hire more officers.

Currently, the position of Police Chief is vacant following the sudden death of Chief Anthony Federico in June.

Mr. Bruschi cited concerns regarding burnout and a drop in service level if the total number of police officers on staff became too low.

Council member Roger Martindell said that the governing body had never really addressed the “fundamental issue” of the kind of services the Borough wants to provide vis-à-vis the police, and the total number of officers needed to achieve that vision.

“The police department is the most expensive department in the Borough,” Mr. Martindell stated, adding, “I think it’s time to address the cost issue.”

He suggested determining the overall departmental goals before doing interviews.

Agreeing with Mr. Martindell, Council member David Goldfarb added that the Borough should “defer the decision on staffing until we have a new chief,” who would be able to supervise the selection process more thoroughly.

“It has been six weeks since we’ve had a chief, and we’ve basically done nothing. It’s something I find inexcusable,” Mr. Goldfarb said. “That is not the right way to run the police department.”

Mayor Mildred Trotman acknowledged that “there is a process in place — albeit a slow one — for appointing a chief.”

Meetings between the Public Safety Committee and Council will be scheduled for September to discuss staffing and appointments.

Council President Andrew Koontz said that the governing body needed to ascertain the level at which the core mission of the police department could not be provided, and then make the appropriate policy decisions.

“It seems a prudent course of action to provide a hiring procedure at this time,” Mr. Koontz said.

Advocating for having a conversation first, Council member Barbara Trelstad remarked that “determining what kind of police force we want would inform our decision regarding the chief,” as well as hiring other officers.

“We can’t afford to increase staff to a level where we never have officers overcommitted,” Mr. Goldfarb said, adding that in the event of all Borough police on duty responding to calls “what happens is that the Township covers it, and vice versa.”

Mr. Martindell stated that the Borough should consider more shared services with the Township on the issue.

“I suggest we keep a completely open mind as to what the number should be,” Mr. Goldfarb said.

In other news, a recommendation by the Environmental Commission to consider appointing a joint parks director to manage parks, nature preserves, and open space sparked a discussion during which Mr. Goldfarb said he had been advocating for a joint parks and recreation department for years.

After Mayor Trotman cautioned that such an expansion “could have quite an impact” on the budget, Mr. Koontz said he would go to the Recreation Department to ascertain what staffing and budgetary needs would have to be met and report back to the Borough at a later date.

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