The turnover of leadership in the police force in the last 3 years has left us understaffed in command positions. The first step to fill that void was to invite the County Prosecutor to assist us by administrating the Franklin Twp. Police Dept. To that end, the Prosecutor assigned County Chief of Detectives Fodor. While Chief Fodor is doing his job, the next step, from the Council’s point of view, is to return to a Township-based police administration. I have great respect for Chief Fodor and his team and I’m thankful they accepted our invitation for assistance but, and I hope they take this in the way it is intended, I want them to be able to leave as soon as possible. That is in Franklin’s best interest. I believe the quickest responsible way to do that is to prepare to hire a Public Safety Director.
The Mayor and Council are often in the position of not being able to speak our minds because, for instance, there is a personnel issue or there is an ongoing investigation. Sometimes we are not even at liberty to say we are not allowed to speak. Painfully, good leadership requires us to remain silent at times while less responsible people use the situation for political advantage regardless of the negative effect it may have on the town. My only goal has been, and always will be, what is best for this town and I’ll not let political or personal gain rule my decisions. I call on others to do the same.
We now know of the excessive use of union time, time an officer devotes to union events and not typical police duties, which took officers off the street far beyond what the contract allowed. I was angered that the former police leadership would have authorized this, the practice has now ended, and it will not happen again. The administrative structure of a Chief of Police makes it difficult for the Manager and the Mayor and Council to monitor such practices. It prevents the Manager from being involved with day-to-day issues. The structure of a Public Safety Director allows the Manager and the Mayor and Council to monitor the day to day operations but still excludes us from being involved with matters of law enforcement.
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I hear comments that a Public Safety Director will allow politics to enter the law enforcement process. That is categorically not true. Under a Public Safety Director, just as with a Chief of Police, the Manager and the Mayor and Council are strictly forbidden from such intrusions. Anyone communicating anything else is either ill-informed or intentionally misleading you. I also have little doubt if we didn’t do this, we would be accused of taking no action. This is a breakdown of police leadership not a problem with the men and women in blue. How sad that some have decided to make them a battle ground for their political gain.
Just as with a Chief of Police, under a Public Safety Director, there are New Jersey built-in safeguards, ready access to the prosecutor, and nothing prevents us from having the best-equipped, best-trained, and best-respected officers in the State and we can have it with increased transparency and oversight.
The most important issue of all is one I haven’t mentioned yet, safety. Both safety of the public and safety of our officers. What I have expressed to the Prosecutor and Chief Fodor is the paramount importance of our police force being there to protect you and your children, and also, that they treat you with respect? Recent events do NOT put that in question. I want to strongly express my confidence in the men and women of the FTPD who are on the streets, every day, serving you. They are extremely disciplined and dedicated individuals. I believe in them and you can count on them. That is not in doubt.
That political operatives would put the integrity of the hard-working rank and file in question and attempt to undermine the public’s confidence is reprehensible and it is dangerous. It is dangerous that those who pretend to love this town play politics at the Franklin’s expense. They try to mislead the public by telling them the outstanding members of our police force will be demoralized by our actions and will somehow not do their duty.
What I don’t want is a lack of administrative discipline to leak into the demonstrated discipline we see on the streets by our officers. For that reason alone, I believe it is vital we take this action at this time. I will not take a chance of sacrificing the thing that means the most to the people of Franklin, their safety.