Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 48
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
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Police Department Oversight Debated by Borough Council

Dilshanie Perera

While the ordinance changing police department oversight structure was not introduced at last week’s meeting, the question of who the Borough Police Chief should ultimately report to was the focus of Council discussion.

A recent police study conducted by independent consultant Robert A. Verry suggested that the “Chain of Command” be clearly delineated, and that “the Administrator should assume the role of appropriate authority for the Princeton Borough Police Department,” in order to “eliminate any confusion as to whom the Chief of Police reports to” and “open up communications and add a level of accountability.”

Council members wondered whether the Verry recommendation was the best course of action, and debated the merits of having the Police Chief report to the Borough Administrator as opposed to the Public Safety Committee (PSC), which is comprised of the Administrator, Mayor, and three Council members. The entity that would have the ultimate adjudicatory role in resolving disciplinary cases was also under consideration.

“It became quite clear in the past 18 months that most of us were not satisfied with current policies … the majority of us were frustrated at our hands being tied,” Mayor Mildred Trotman said, referring to an internal affairs investigation involving the suspension with pay of three Borough police officers.

“I fully support continuing with the Public Safety Committee (PSC), lessened by one,” Ms. Trotman remarked. The reduction of one Council member from the PSC would ensure that there is not a full quorum present, thus allowing for potentially sensitive information discussed at the meetings to remain confidential.

Other Council members agreed that the PSC should not be eliminated. “I am ready to get rid of the appellate role; but not ready to get rid of the Public Safety Committee … that committee should continue to keep the residents’ pulse in communications with the Police Department,” Council member Roger Martindell said.

“We need to increase the quality and quantity of communications with superior police officers, and getting rid of the PSC would run contrary to that,” Council member Kevin Wilkes added, while Barbara Trelstad, also of Borough Council, stressed the need for regular meetings between the PSC and police department.

When Borough Attorney Karen Cayci remarked that it was “not a good idea for the Borough Administrator to meet, because he or she would now be the authority” in adjudicating, Mr. Martindell responded, “I think the PSC should be the appropriate authority. In the end it is the responsibility of the elected officials to establish the policy of setting functions.”

“It would be unusual to bifurcate these two roles,” Ms. Cayci said of handling disciplinary matters and being the “appropriate authority” to whom the chief reports.

Ann Yasuhara of Not In Our Town, an organization she described as an “interfaith, interracial, social action commission,” urged Council to pay attention to relations between the Police Department and community at large, as well as communities of color. “Invite the public to participate in the planning in a meaningful way,” she suggested.

Decision-making about the kind of image and policy espoused by the police department should rest with the PSC, said Ms. Trelstad, adding that exactly what the PSC is responsible for should be clearly detailed in the ordinance.

“If the heart of where the Council wants to go is the policing style of the Borough … it can certainly be dictated through the Administrator,” Mr. Bruschi noted.

Mr. Martindell said, “I’d like the PSC to be that authority … there needs to be a reasonable balance between the Administrator’s function and the governing body, and that is the PSC.”

The ordinance is slated for further public comment and introduction on Tuesday, December 8 at 7:30 p.m. in Borough Hall.

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