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DV Pilot police & fire

Bergen chief seeks support against police consolidation plan, local chiefs have questions

Photo Credit: ABOVE: Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan (top, left), county Sheriff Michael Saudino, county Police Chief Brian Higgins, Bergen Democrat Freeholders Steve Tanelli, David Ganz, Tracy Zur, Joan Voss

EXCLUSIVE: On the eve of the introduction of an ordinance that would fold the entire Bergen County Police Department into the sheriff’s office, Chief Brian Higgins made a direct bid to the county police chiefs’ association to fight the proposal. The chiefs, in turn, say they have several questions.

The consolidation move — contained in an ordinance to be introduced this afternoon — “saves no money but rather limits the current authority and power of the position of the [Bergen County] Chief of Police,” Higgins wrote in an email to the association president, Cliffside Park Police Chief Donald Keane.

  • NEWSBREAK: The board approved introducing the ordinance, 6-1, with Freeholder Maura DeNicola opposing on the grounds that it would reduce the numbers of county police on the street. The majority said it would save $90 -$200 million without layoffs. A public hearing, followed by a final vote, is set for Oct. 16.

Members of the county chiefs association had discussions via email and over the phone yesterday and this morning and have concerns, Keane said

“One of the big issues for us are the cost savings projections,” Keane told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “It looks to us like in order to save the amounts of money they are proposing, there will have to be a reduction in force.

“We don’t want to see that happen,” he said. “We need the services that these agencies provide.”

Local police officers, on the other hand, weren’t too pleased with Higgins’ email.

“[He] has no problem going town to town looking to ‘merge’ with small departments,” one said. “Now that it’s his department involved in a legitimate merger and not a take over, he wants help.”

Overtures have been made to several towns to have the BCPD take over patrol duties. None so far has accepted except for Teterboro.

“County [police] tried coming into our town and said they could patrol the east end … not caring about the layoffs we were going to endure,” a local officer said.

County Executive Kathleen Donovan has opposed the consolidation plan, which she criticized as a political ploy that endangers public safety.

The county executive has received support from Freeholder Maura DeNicola, a fellow Republican. However, both Sheriff Michael Saudino and the remaining Republican and Democratic freeholders have advocated the change as a way to save money and provide more effective law enforcement.

Here’s a copy of the BERGEN COUNTY POLICE CONSOLIDATION ORDINANCE

The proposed ordinance shifts “all responsibilities of county police to the sheriff,” which it says will “achieve millions of dollars in taxpayers’ savings annually without reducing the quality of services provided”

“The Sheriff, upon the recommendation of the Executive and a resolution of approval by the Board, shall operate the Jail, Jail Annex and the Bureau of Identification,” it says.

The ordinance also says:

“The Sheriff shall also have, exercise, and discharge the functions, powers, and  duties of the Division of the County Police Department, including, but not limited to,  responsibility for providing police services to County institutions, County roads, and County parks, and to such other areas as the Sheriff may direct.

“The Bergen County Police Department, formerly a division of the Department of Public Safety, will operate as a division of the Office of the Sheriff.

“Its head shall be a Chief of Police, appointed by the County Executive, confirmed by the Board of Chosen Freeholders and who shall repor in the chain of command to the Sheriff.”

Members of the county Police Chiefs Association intend to discuss the proposal at their regular meeting next week, Keane said.

“In many ways our concerns remain the same as last year,” when board members met with freeholders who tried a consolidation move that eventually failed, he said.

“There are some aspects of the new plan that are better than the previous proposal,” the chief told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “Moving the county police over whole, as one unit under a chief, is a good thing. You need a chief of police to run that operation.

“However, we don’t think the chief should report to the sheriff, or work for the sheriff,” Keane added.

“We’re also concerned about putting all of those offices under a sheriff who doesn’t have to have a law enforcement background,” he said, noting that it is an elective office. “Anyone could run and be elected sheriff. Then we’re putting another 80 or 90 officers under that person

“We understand that everybody is looking to save money. We have all been asked to do more with less,” Keane said. “But at a certain point, how mjch more can you cut before you injure the product? We still have to put cops on the street and answer the calls and make sure everybody is safe.”

PHOTO ABOVE: Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan (top, left), county Sheriff Michael Saudino, county Police Chief Brian Higgins, Bergen Democrat Freeholders Steve Tanelli, David Ganz, Tracy Zur, Joan Voss

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