Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 41
 
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
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Loss in Federal Funding Makes Requested PD Hike a Tall Order for Borough

Matthew Hersh

An administrative report delivered to Borough Hall last week said the Princeton Borough Police Department has been operating below staffing needs since losing two sworn officer positions three years ago when financing from a federal grant dried up. The report urged Borough Council to make fiscal concessions in the coming budget cycle to reestablish the former police departmental staffing level.

The former departmental high watermark of 34 sworn officers was reduced to 32 when the federal government phased out its Community Oriented Policing Services program, or COPS, that, in part, provided grants to pay for all or part of entry-level officers’ salaries during their first three years on the force.

Since the rollback, Borough Police Chief Anthony Federico has routinely framed his monthly police report to Borough Council in the context of a departmental need for more sworn officers, pointing out that key areas of law enforcement facilitated by the COPS program, including the department’s Safe Neighborhoods Unit, the Traffic Bureau, and the Detective Bureau, have been compromised.

The most recent indication of a lack of departmental staffing apparently surfaced when a fight broke out on MacLean Street late in the evening of September 28, and Borough Police, with its six officers dealing with DWI arrests at the time, had to call in Princeton Township Police to respond to the fight.

“Sometimes we’re below our established minimum out on the street,” Chief Federico told mayor and council last Tuesday, adding that the department’s active duty officers are often below the sworn officer count because of injuries or illnesses.

Borough administrator Robert Bruschi “strongly” urged Council to enact an increase in police staffing to 34 sworn officers, calling for the reestablishment of the Safe Neighborhoods Unit, and for more overall flexibility in departmental assignments.

According to the report, the overall cost, including salary, of a first-year patrol officer is $48,223. Borough Hall had allowed for an additional officer in its 2006 budget, but that increase never occurred due to other staffing deficiencies and a shortage of applicants, Mr. Bruschi’s report concluded.

While acknowledging current staffing strains on the department, several members of Council, including David Goldfarb, worried that the budgetary impact in the Borough would be too great.

“I can certainly understand why the police would want to have a larger staff, but we are doing what is necessary to keep the taxes low and make the difficult decisions,” he said.

Council President Peggy Karcher disagreed, at least in part, saying that while the impact of adding two sworn officers to the police department would be felt in the annual budget, “times have changed, and we need to make up those positions.” She added that “we need to think about the safety and welfare of the community.”

Ms. Karcher went on to call the reestablishment of the Safe Neighborhoods Unit “imperative,” observing that other areas in the municipal budget could be trimmed in favor of bulking up the police department.

Mr. Bruschi said that adding two officers to the force would not threaten the state-mandated four percent cap on municipal budget increases.

By a four-to-two vote, Council agreed to draft an ordinance that, if approved, would allow the department to increase its manpower to 34.

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