December 18, 2013

It’s Time for A Fresh and Unbiased Look At Appointing a Civilian as Head of Police

To the Editor:

Last week, Princeton’s mayor and Council received a report regarding the historically troubled police department and were awarded kudos by its consultant for being on the “right path,” according to recent press reports [“Rodgers Report: Police, Council ‘On Right Path,’” Town Topics, Dec. 11].

Missing from the publicly released portions of the consultant’s report was an analysis of the recent history of firings, forced retirements, and litigation (civil and criminal), some of which is continuing. Such events have cost taxpayers millions of dollars. What brought about such events, and why have those conditions persisted into 2013?

The consultant did not address the departmental dysfunction “because it happened in the past and it isn’t material to anything we did here,” according to press reports. But bad stuff happens for a reason, and the reason shouldn’t be ignored, lest it be repeated.

Most glaringly absent from the consultant’s report is forthright analysis of the risks of appointing a new police chief from among the ranks of the current force, which is what the consultant tepidly recommends. The consultant, staffed by former police officers, has a natural bias to advocate for appointment of a new police chief from among the present ranks. But that’s a dangerous bias when the present officers have been back-stabbing each other for years, creating the climate of intra-departmental litigation that taxpayers have been repeatedly funding.

It’s time for forthright consideration of the appointment of a civilian public safety director who is not mired in Princeton’s recent history of police dysfunction. There is every reason to be concerned that if a new chief is appointed from among the current ranks — no matter how able that person may be — the candidates not selected and their cohorts will continue the back-stabbing practices of the past.

That risk is reason enough to take a fresh and unbiased look at appointing a civilian as head of police who has no history with the dysfunction that has too long plagued the department. Until the newly consolidated department settles down, civilian oversight could provide a useful firewall from the historical dysfunction. Wouldn’t consideration of civilian oversight for a few years provide the best opportunity to distance the department from its recent history?

Mayor and Council should address that question — and do so not simply by relying on a glossy report of the former police officials who, historically, have been prejudiced against civilian oversight of the municipality’s most expensive department.

Roger Martindell

Patton Avenue