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Cardinale bill that would merge Bergen County police, sheriff’s office hits bump

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CLIFFVIEW PILOT SCOOP: Introduction of a proposed bill that would abolish the Bergen County Police Department and merge its operations with the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office is on hold at least until Monday, CLIFFVIEW PILOT has learned.

Bergen County PD Chief Brian Higgins, NJ State Sen. Gerry Cardinale, Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino
UPDATE: State Sen. Paul Sarlo this afternoon said he hasn’t completely reviewed a proposal by state Sen. Gerry Cardinale to abolish the Bergen County Police Department and merge its operations with the Sheriff’s Office. However, Sarlo also said he thinks it’s best left to county officials, not state lawmakers, to determine the fate of policing in Bergen. READ MORE….

Republican state Sen. Gerry Cardinale, who drafted the measure, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT this afternoon that he was seeking across-the-aisle co-sponsorship from Democrat state Sen. Paul Sarlo.

However, Sarlo said this afternoon that he hadn’t signed on, contradicting another media report.

“There was a change in the draft that occurred early this week,” Cardinale said. “He only got the change yesterday and needed a chance to read it. It has to do with preserving the Central Municipal court.

“He’s going to review it over the weekend.”

A spokesman for Sarlo confirmed that the senator intends to review the revised draft over the weekend and told CLIFFVIEW PILOT “there won’t be any type of announcement at least until Monday.”

The measure — first reported in CLIFFVIEW PILOT — is specific only to Bergen and Union counties, the only two left with county police departments (All counties are required to have sheriff’s offices, ostensibly to operate the jails, transport prisoners and protect courthouses, among other duties).

Union County already is in the process of consolidating, said Cardinale, who noted that municipalities and counties themselves are creations of the state — as are county police departments — and can be abolished.

“The prediction by the sheriff is at the end of three years we’ll be saving $17 million,” Cardinale told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “Consolidation, when it saves money, must be done.”

Public safety would actually be enhanced, the state senator said.

“When you have a need for two different agencies performing essentially the same service, in many instances they can get in one another’s way,” Cardinale said. “It’s inefficient. You have too much administration.

“We don’t need a chief and a sheriff. We don’t need duplicate administration. We don’t need another floor on the new county courthouse for county police.

The move comes at a time when local and county officials are battling over how Bergen is policed — particularly the cost of that protection.

“If this is going to save the taxpayers millions of dollars and we are not compromising officers’ safety and public safety, what offical wouldn’t be in favor of it?” Bergen Sheriff Michael Saudino told CLIFFVIEW PILOT this afternoon.

Saudino has been at odds with County Police Chief Brian Higgins and County Executive Kathleen Donovan over the county’s various layers of policing. However, the sheriff emphasized that current conflicts should have no bearing on decisions that carry well into the future.

“If this actually does happen, then 10 years from now — when I’m not here and Brian Higgins isn’t here — there would be one agency providing services and everyone will be getting along fine.”

Higgins, in turn, said Saudino’s and Cardinale’s math is off.

“Our budget is less than $17 million,” he told CLIFFVIEW PILOT this afternoon. “The only way to save $17 million is to completely eliminate the county police, including the bomb squad, the SWAT team, the K9 unit, all of the security guards in all of the county builddings and our county schools and in our county parks.

“There’s no way he can save that money by merging the two agencies. It’s just a transfer of power.”

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