Borough Council unanimously agreed to consider hiring a firm to study its police services after passing a resolution last week asking the Township to join a discussion on police consolidation between the two municipalities.
The $98,750 study by the Virginia-based consultant, Carroll Buracker & Associates, would examine the services of the Princeton Borough Police Department. While all Council members eventually agreed to move forward with a discussion about implementing the study, it was at first vigorously opposed by some Council members at the March 1 meeting.
"This is $100,000 that's not wisely spent," said Councilman Andrew Koontz at the March 1 Council meeting. He added that he saw no point in paying a firm to give the Borough recommendations on its current police department when he and other Council members would like to move forward with a discussion of consolidating police with the Township.
Both the Borough and Township had already approved a joint dispatch study by the firm earlier this winter, at a cost of $70,000, which was funded in part by the state, and in part by both municipalities, each paying $25,000.
Last month the Township approved the police services study at the same cost being offered to the Borough, and it is expected to be completed in five months.
"I can't imagine a worse expenditure of money," said Councilman Roger Martindell. "This is half-baked and going nowhere." He added that if the municipalities moved forward with consolidation, he would be more than willing to put money forth to pay for a study on consolidating police, as it would save taxpayer's money in the long-run.
Mayor Joe O'Neill emphasized the need to know how having a current police force of 32 officers, compared to the regular 34, will impact safety and policing in the Borough.
The Borough officially approved the reduction of the police force from 33 to 32 members at its March 1 meeting when it agreed to remove the position of police captain.
Despite the cost to the municipality, Borough Administrator Bob Bruschi firmly encouraged Council to move forward with the study: "I think this is an essential step to take ... from the staff perspective," he said, adding that through meetings with various entities in town, including merchants, he has gotten the sense that there is concern in the community about decreasing the police force when gang violence seems to be on the rise.
However, Mr. Koontz contended that a report given earlier this year by former Chief Chuck Davall stated that there is high satisfaction among the community with the police department, and there is no reason to pay for a study of its services when there have not been studies of the other departments that have recently undergone staff reductions due to budgetary constraints.
Councilwoman Wendy Benchley reminded Council that the differing opinions within the municipal government are exactly why an outsider should conduct an analysis of the department and give Council a better idea as to how it should proceed.
Mr. Martindell and Mr. Koontz agreed to move forward with a discussion about the police study if a resolution was drawn up asking the Township Committee to show its support for talks on consolidating police. The resolution passed four to two, with Ms. Benchley and Council President Mildred Trotman voting against it.
Ms. Benchley said she wasn't in favor of the wording in the resolution, and Ms. Trotman said she didn't have enough information to make an informed decision on whether or not police consolidation is a good idea.
After receiving the Borough's resolution on Monday, Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand said she was surprised to see that Council wants to move forward with talks about police consolidation before reviewing the results of the study about consolidating dispatch services.
"I don't know if we would even consider consolidating police without seeing the results [of the study]," she said, adding that she will have to speak to the Committee before deciding how to formally respond to the resolution. "I don't think it's in our best interest to endorse police consolidation at this time," she added.
The bond ordinance for the study on Borough Police services will go before the public at Council's March 22 meeting.