At a special meeting held last week, Princeton’s Mayor and Council heard from the Rodgers Group, the public safety consulting firm hired this summer to report on the health and culture of Princeton Police Department.
The department was formed in January after consolidation of Princeton Township and Princeton Borough, which each had its own force.
The Rodgers Group is expert in law enforcement accreditation and operations and has been used for consulting work by both Princetons in the past.
At the meeting, Frank Rodgers, former Deputy Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police who retired in 2007 at the rank of Lt. Colonel after 25 years of service, commended the level of transparency of Council and police department. “What you are doing here is a model for other communities anticipating consolidation,” he said.
Mr. Rodgers urged the municipality to make hiring a permanent leader for the police department a top priority. Furthermore, he recommended that the town promote a chief from within departmental ranks and not to add a civilian public safety director. “From my personal observation, the department has coalesced around its current leadership and interjecting an outside public safety director would upset the apple cart, and not add any value to the equation.”
“The stability of leadership in the department is crucial to the successful transformation of the post-consolidation merger of the Borough and Township police departments,” he said, and went on to praise the job that was being done by acting chief Captain Nick Sutter.
Mr. Sutter has been running the police department since late February when former Chief David Dudeck took extended leave amidst allegations of harassment and discrimination. Mr. Dudeck retired after the police union agreed not to file charges against him. Seven Princeton officers have since filed a suit alleging sexual harassment and discrimination.
The report states that there were “strong feelings among officers who were interviewed that the head of the agency should be a chief of police. If the governing body chooses to go in another direction, swift and effective communication with organizational members will be required to mitigate the impact of further change to the agency which has operated with uncertainty for more than two years.”
Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller was the first to raise the specter of the police department’s past history. In addition to the lawsuit against Mr. Dudeck, a suit is pending regarding the termination of two former Township officers forced to resign when former Chief Mark Emann was removed from his post for allegedly accepting gifts from a gun dealer during a police department trade-in for new weapons.
In the light of recent lawsuits and Mr. Dudeck’s resignation “are you saying that new leadership will improve our record,” she asked Mr. Rodgers. “Isn’t that putting too much on the shoulders of one individual.”
“Now that there is self-awareness the job will be easier, especially with a new leader making a strategic plan in the New Year,” responded Mr. Rodgers.
Ms. Crumiller asked whether appointing a Public Safety Director to whom the new chief would answer would be a good idea.
“The last thing you need is more change, what you need is stability. You’ve had success over the last 12 months and there is a degree of confidence in the acting chief. There would be no rationale for interjecting someone from outside into the situation. Princeton isn’t a large community. What a public safety director can do, a police chief can do. Why spend money on someone who cannot do all that a chief can do?”
“But every chief we’ve had over last five years or so has left under less than ideal circumstances,” said Ms. Crumiller, to which Mr. Rodgers responded: “I can’t speak to any of that because it happened in the past and isn’t material to anything we did here.”
Ms. Crumiller was not entirely convinced. “Change is something we should probably make,” she said, suggesting that the governing body might seek other opinions about the structure of the department leadership.
Mr. Rodgers was quick to respond: “What you do not need is more change and you’ve had a record of success for the last 12 months.”
“You’ve clearly picked up on a lot of recent progress, but what more can Council do,” asked Councilwoman Heather Howard. She requested specific recommendations from Mr. Rodgers about three challenges: how do we stay the course, how do we stabilize leadership, and what will a strategic plan look like?
Also retired from the state police, Philip Coyne of the Rodgers Group likened a strategic plan to a GPS in a car. What you first need to know is where you want to get to. What does success mean five years from now. Work back from there to your starting place and identify the milestones in one, three and five year increments. The report’s 13 recommendations, he said, were created to become an integral part of a strategic plan.
“Continue the course,” said Mr. Rodgers, adding that Council should expect accountability from its police department. “Remember law enforcement doesn’t run the show, it reports to the show and may need to be reminded of that every now and again.”
Princeton resident Alexi Assmus, who was at the meeting, later commented: “I was glad to see that the Rogers group reported that current leadership has made great strides in bringing the departments together and that focus groups stated there were quicker response times to calls and greater information sharing in the combined department. Internal and external focus group members expressed concern that further reducing the force would negatively impact the department’s ability to provide services to the community, and I look forward to seeing an analysis of how many officers Princeton needs in its patrol squads.”
But Ms. Assmus wondered about the accuracy of self-reporting and said that she was hoping to see more of an analysis of how the size of the police department was arrived at. “Was it a way to save money and promote consolidation,” she asked, pointing out that the majority of consolidation savings came from cuts to the police department.
Councilman Lance Liverman praised both the Rodgers Group for their report, which cost report the municipality in excess of $10,000, and the police department, which he said had been tainted by a “few bad apples,” but which is “full of great people.” He particularly commended Mr. Sutter for his leadership over the past year.
Regarding the method of the report, Mr. Rodgers said “I don’t know of any other police department that has done this. The report’s principal value is the self-awareness it offers to incoming leadership in knowing what the work force looks like, what there is to work with in making plans for future management. That was our intention.”
”This has been a useful exercise for the department,” said Ms. Lempert in thanking the Rodgers Group. “The police department is one of the greatest successes of consolidation; doing more and spending less. We’re proud of the work they are doing.”
Council and Mayor were to discuss the report and police department leadership in closed session Monday night. “We’d like to make a decision soon in order to give stability to the department, she said. “We will be talking about next steps as a follow up to the recommendations made in the report.”
The 83-page “Princeton Police Department Organizational Health and Culture Assessment Report” includes a DiSC classic group personal assessment commonly used to improve productivity, teamwork and communication.
Forty-seven individuals took the assessment, which categorizes people and examines strengths and weaknesses. “The value of this assessment is improved self-understanding,” said retired N.J. State Police Lieutenant Vance Mattis of the Rodgers Group. “Not surprisingly for a law-enforcement environment,” he said, “the department is made up of conscientious personality-types.”
The report also includes responses from 11 focus groups comprised of, among others, police officers, police captains and lieutenants, sergeants, civilian employees, administrators, local merchants and education officials, and elected officials. These groups reported on their perception of the Princeton police.
It concludes with recommended actions to: develop a long-term strategic plan that provides a road map for success at one, three, and five year intervals; establish initiatives in support of services wanted by the community; establish a leadership and mentoring program; provide supervision, team building, motivation and effective communication training programs; and develop internal systems that reward officer performance.
To read the full report, visit the municipal website: www.princetonnj.gov.