BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Bridgewater Township’s next police chief will get to live further away from the municipality.
The Bridgewater Township Council voted unanimously Nov. 25 to approve an ordinance that no longer requires the town’s police chief to reside within a 25-mile radius of police headquarters, on Commons Way. That long-standing stricture has now been rescinded by the council’s vote, although no maximum living distance was specified.
Resident Catherine Franco asked why the township would hire someone who could not respond in a reasonable amount of time due to distance, in what was essentially a 24/7 position. She also said that living distance had supposedly always been a requirement in the selection of previous police chiefs, who had to subsequently move within the 25-mile radius if they obtained the position.
She said she felt the new ordinance was “too open-ended,” and not fiscally responsible.
Council president Matthew Moench said prior to the governing body’s vote that the previous measure had narrowed the list of potential police chief candidates, and that reinforcing the 25-mile radius would “cut out good candidates.”
As he had mentioned at the new ordinance’s introduction at the previous council meeting in November, the police department already rotates two captains along with the chief to ensure that there is a senior officer on call at all times, and the captains are currently permitted to live outside the 25-mile radius.
Moench also said there is a scoring mechanism in place to rank potential police chiefs, with living distance able to be taken into account, and the mayor making the final decision.
During the discussion, council vice president Howard Norgalis pointed out that current Police Chief Al Nicaretta will be retiring soon.
Councilman Allen Kurdyla also said that a chief who lives, for example, 40 miles from Bridgewater would also be using a township vehicle for commuting, as opposed to just responding to his or her duties.
He added that it would be a “significant amount of wear and tear on a municipal vehicle.”
Moench reiterated that police captains have no requirement to live within 25 miles of town, and are also now taking home municipal vehicles. He said that next year, there will be an evaluation of the policy regarding who is allowed to take home town vehicles.
“My concern,” said Moench of the radius stricture, “would be to not get the best candidate for chief.”
He also said there is a way of compensating for using town vehicles. Kurdyla said he supports getting the right candidate, but wonders what would be most effective, including the (possible) use of courtesy cars.
Norgalis said it is a fuel issue and a vehicle mileage issue, and has been for him since 2004. He asked if there are too many individuals who have usage of a town vehicle 24/7, and reiterated that that policy has to be revisited in 2020.
“What is best for the residents of Bridgewater?” Norgalis asked.
Moench responded that 24/7 vehicles is a separate issue, and Kurdyla said he agreed.
“It’s a valid concern,” added Moench. “We can address it.”
Councilman Filipe Pedroso said he doesn’t want to shortchange the town of the best available candidate for chief due to mileage.
“The goal is to find the best candidate,” said Pedroso, even if that candidate lives at least 26 miles away.
The council then voted, 5-0, in favor of the new ordinance.