Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 11
 
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
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Internal Disputes Precede Police Suspensions; County Prosecutor’s Office to Investigate

Matthew Hersh

A conflict that has been simmering between Princeton Borough’s chief of police and the local police union has now surfaced with the paid suspension of three of the Borough’s 34-member force.

The suspension grew out of an unnamed complaint filed within the department that led to an internal investigation, resulting in the three officers’ suspensions. The matter was then referred to the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office last week, Chief Anthony Federico said.

The suspended officers, Patrolman William Perez, Sgt. Kevin Creegan, and Sgt. Kenneth Riley, have been removed from their assignments and could face termination, Chief Federico said.

James Mets, an attorney for the police union, PBA Local 130, has publicly stated that the three officers have done nothing wrong. The suspensions, however, come at the heels of a complaint filed by the union against the Borough and the police chief for unfair labor practices against the union’s hierarchy.

The 11-page complaint filed with the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC), which was obtained by Town Topics last Wednesday, outlines a series of incidents involving Mr. Perez, the PBA 130 vice president and Mr. Creegan, a union trustee. The complaint, filed by Mr. Mets, alleges partisan disciplinary treatment of the three officers, and in some cases, relating to close acquaintances of the suspended officers.

The complaint also points to unbalanced administrative reassignments that are illustrated as punitive, evidently stemming from nearly two years of rising tension between the police department’s administrative officers and union leadership.

The dispute appears to be directly related to last year’s disciplinary hearing against Patrol Officer Sean McNeff, who is also the union president. Mr. McNeff stood to lose his job because of an alleged abuse of sick time. The complaint points to other union representatives’ alleged reassignments and decline in positive treatment from the department during the intervening period. At one point, the report refers to a department detective being questioned because of “his positions with the PBA,” with that officer being told that he “better be careful” in regard to his union duties or he would “find himself back in patrol.”

The County Prosecutor’s Office, which ordered the suspensions, has declined to indicate the reason.

The dispute within the police department leads to public questions, said Councilman Roger Martindell. “There are critical issues in the department, and unfortunate as that may be, why should the public safety of the Borough of Princeton be jeopardized by the suspension of three officers pending the outcome of an investigation?” Mr. Martindell asked. “There’s no allegation that I see that any member of the public was at any time disrespected or put in jeopardy by any police officer.

“It’s all internal politics, and if that’s the case, leave the officers on duty,” Mr. Martindell said. “Why are we paying for people who don’t work? It doesn’t make any sense.”

PERC has yet to hold a hearing on the dispute.

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