Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 46
 
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
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Study Urges Police Department Oversight

Dilshanie Perera

Borough Council unanimously voted at last week’s meeting to draft new amendments that would reconfigure how the governing body oversees the Police Department.

The elected officials were responding to a police study by independent consultant Robert A. Verry, who is also the former police chief of the South Bound Brook Police Department.

In his report, Mr. Verry wrote that “several of those interviewed, management and Union alike, expressed their concerns that the Council over the years has been anything but ‘pro-cop,’” adding that “one of the incoming Chief’s first responsibilities should be to mend these perceived broken fences.”

Additionally, he recommended that the “chain of command” be “solidified and adhered to in order to rebuild any lost trust, but also empower those sworn to positions of authority.”

With internal affairs procedures already listed by the State Attorney General, Mr. Verry noted that the Borough should tailor its own process to mirror that of the state.

Mr. Verry also suggested that “the Administrator should assume the role of appropriate authority for the Princeton Borough Police Department. If nothing else, this will eliminate any confusion as to who the Chief of Police reports to, [and] … will open up communications and add a level of accountability.”

A 3-2 Council vote in May commissioned the report to evaluate disciplinary procedures within the department and recommend changes to the process. Additionally, the consultant was tasked with reviewing enforcement personnel matters from the past two years and analyzing suspensions with and without pay. The relationship between Council and the Police Department vis-à-vis disciplinary matters was also assessed.

Outside independent analysis was deemed necessary following a case beginning in February 2008, which involved the suspension with pay of three Borough police officers after an internal affairs investigation.

The report points out that the current ordinance obfuscates the role of the Public Safety Committee (PSC), which has not met in two years. Comprised of the Borough Administrator, three Council members, and the Mayor, the PSC could have the weight of the entire Council when it votes, thus making it necessary to invite the public to such meetings under the Open Public Meetings Act, according to Mr. Verry. He noted that this is in direct contradiction to the State Attorney General’s guidelines, which designate all disciplinary hearings closed unless the defendant officer requests an open hearing.

Conflicting ordinances “undermine the authority of the Chief in the eyes of the Union, show a distrust for the Chief of Police, pit the Chief against the PSC, and chip away at department morale,” Mr. Verry wrote.

“Sadly, in some respects, the above four things appeared to be going on in Princeton Borough at one level or another,” he added.

The draft of the amended ordinance will take into account Mr. Verry’s concerns and recommendations.

While a new Borough Police Chief has yet to be selected following Chief Anthony Federico’s sudden death in June, current Lieutenants Dave Dudeck, Sharon Papp, and Nicholas Sutter are being considered for the position.

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