ROSELAND, NJ — It was standing-room-only in the Roseland council chambers on Tuesday when members of the Roseland Police Department stood in unison as Officer Michael Bellantoni, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 184, delivered the results of a confidence/no-confidence vote taken by the membership regarding long-time Chief of Police Richard McDonough.
Bellatoni, a 14-year member of the force, explained that Lodge 184 serves as the official collective bargaining unit for all Roseland officers, including the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) members. After the unit conducted a vote that was “administered by the State Fraternal Order of Police with complete transparency,” Bellatoni explained that the majority of the voting officers “agreed that they have no confidence in Chief McDonough.”
“Firstly, I would be remiss if I did not take the opportunity to say that my subsequent address should not reflect poorly on the current mayor and council,” said Bellatoni. “All the problems that our officers have endured are over many arduous years…
“All 24 officers rank and file under the chief exercised their right to vote. After careful deliberation, an overwhelming majority of the officers—20 out of 24—all voted and agreed that they have no confidence in Chief McDonough.”
As he addressed the council, Bellatoni explained that the Roseland Police Department has “steadily deteriorated in the forms of morale, performance, direction, vision and, most of all, its integrity.” On behalf of the department, he added that the chief has bred “an environment rife with workplace harassment and a long history of excessive litigation” brought forth by past and present officers.
“The rank and file have a perception of poor executive leadership, indifference, lack of integrity, poor policies or lack thereof,” said Bellatoni. “We all feel that the damage sustain is such that is not redeemable under Chief McDonough.
“The chief has provided no short term or long-term strategic plan or objectives for the police department. He has not established, sustained or opened communication while displaying a distinct lack of leadership. He sequesters himself from the majority while refusing to meet and engage or participate in discussions with the supervisory staff.”
The union president further explained that lack of structural cohesiveness has resulted in “serious organizational problems” within the department, and that the majority of officers believe this demonstrates that the current chief is “incapable of leading the police department while preparing for the future.”
“For far too long, the chief has been permitted to act with impunity and was not held to any standard when officers sued to protect their rights,” said Bellatoni. “In the interest of keeping the borough and the citizens we serve safe, I will refrain from citing specific safety and preparedness concerns in an open forum. However, we will make ourselves available to the governing body upon your request.
“For far too long, absent leadership and direction coupled with employment tactics that are ruled by fear and intimidation have put us all in a position that we can no longer be tolerant of it. The lawsuits, the complaints and our vote of no confidence speak volumes.”
While preparing this notification for the borough council, the union members said they decided to purport themselves “in a manner of distinction” rather than engage in “a smear campaign.”
Moving forward, Bellatoni said it would be imperative for the mayor and council to meet with the Fraternal Order of Police to develop a plan to get the Roseland Police Department “back to a place where we call all stand proud.” He added that the union looks forward to having open communication with the governing body on this subject.
“Lastly, I would like for the mayor and the council to accept this notification as an ‘olive branch,’ as it is our sincere desire to work collaboratively while striving for excellence, and we will continue to push forward as a union to continue to meet and set forth by the Borough of Roseland.”
This is not the first time members of the police department have acted formally against McDonough, as a lawsuit had been filed by members of the force on October 24, 2014 against McDonough whereby the plaintiffs accused McDonough of using his power as police chief improperly.
In November of that year, former mayor John Duthie affirmed his and the borough council’s support for McDonough. This action was most recently dismissed with prejudice by the court on Sept. 25, 2018, according to county records.
Following Bellatoni’s report on Tuesday, current mayor James Spango declined to comment on issues related to personnel.
Attempts to contact Chief McDonough for comment were not returned prior to this publication.