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Vol. LXV, No. 44
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
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Township PBA Issues Statement Opposing Consolidation

Ellen Gilbert

Add a recent letter to residents from the Princeton Township Policeman’s Benevolent Association (Local 387) to the voices opposing consolidation.

“As responsible members of the community we … feel that it is our duty to inform you about potential public safety concerns we have in regards to consolidation,” begins the statement. “While we respect the Consolidation Commission’s efforts to research this topic, we believe that the cost savings are minimal while the negative impact on services and public safety will be significant.”

In a recent interview, Local 387 President, Detective Benjamin M. Gering, said that while the “Chief and lieutenants need to stay neutral,” the letter speaks for every Township police officer. He also emphasized the fact that “whatever the outcome,” the Township police will continue to do their best at work.

Support for the PBA Local’s concerns may be found in a critique, prepared last May by Barrington Police Department Chief Joseph H. Eisenhardt, Jr., questioning the Consolidation Commission’s methodology, and its conclusions about projected costs. Mr. Eisenhardt’s report suggests that since “the study started at the end result and worked backward, it was hard for CGR [Center for Governmental Research] to come to any different conclusion. There are many facts missing and some of the data cited is unsubstantiated.”

“According to the consolidation study the alleged savings for tax payers for a combined municipality could be $200 a year,” notes the PBA release. “However, this savings comes at the price of losing nine police officers, decreasing the force to merely 51 officers. According to National Standards a consolidated Princeton should have a police department of a minimum of 66 officers.”

Other PBA 387 arguments against consolidation include a 30 percent increase in the cost of police services, and a 50 percent reduction in dispatch services during daytime hours. Responding to the “historically” higher call volume in the Borough, they add, will also impede the police’s availability.

“It won’t be like Trenton,” said Mr. Gering, referring to that city’s recent reduction of police officers and subsequent increase in crime. Instead, he likened a consolidated Princeton to conditions in Little Egg Harbor, where statistics gathered six months after a reduction in the police force showed a 61 percent increase in burglaries; a 51 percent rise in thefts; and a 22 percent increase in assaults. Mr. Gering acknowledged that violent crimes are rare in Princeton, where most complaints are property-related.

In response to arguments saying that the existence of Princeton University’s security force will help ease a transition to fewer officers, Mr. Gering pointed out that University security isn’t armed, and can only respond to campus calls. “There are still certain things that they can’t do,” he observed.

The PBA’s statement concludes that “[t]ransition costs for the police department alone will be significantly higher than reported in the Commission’s report.”

“A consolidated police department will deliver services more effectively and at a lower cost to our community,” said Township Mayor Chad Goerner in response to the PBA document. “In times of emergency, a consolidated department will unify our resources, create a single dispatch center to eliminate confusion, and create a single line of command in emergency response.”

“I respect our department, but I answer to the residents of Princeton Township,” continued Mr. Goerner. “I can understand that our force is concerned about staff reductions, that is why it was important that we performed this review with independent consultants while at the same time gathering input from the two municipal police chiefs. The consultant that CGR worked with, Michael Carpenter, whose work is now being questioned by the pro bono report from the New Jersey Police Officers’ Association, actually was hired by our very same police department in 2006 to re-write their policy manual.” 

A letter written by Consolidation Commission member and former Township Mayor Bernie Miller, responding to the PBA statement, appears in this week’s Mailbox.

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