SOMERSET, NJ - The Franklin Township Council passed an ordinance last night that gives administrative control of the Police Department to a civilian public safety director. But before unanimously voting in favor of the change, officials said they hoped to return to a chief of police in the future.
“This is not for all time, we would hope in the near future to go back to having a police chief but for the moment I think we need a public safety director,” Councilman Theodore Chase said.
Some residents expressed confusion about why the council is scrapping the police chief position so quickly after the retirement of the previous command staff. In response, the mayor and several councilmembers alluded to more mismanagement at the department.
“You’ll have more explained to you and the council knows more than that and I think the Somerset County prosecutor knows even more than that and endorses our going to a public safety director at this time,” Chase said.
Mayor Phillip Kramer asked the public to trust the council’s decision and said the township will come to understand as more information comes out.
“Unfortunately we can’t say everything,” he said. “I understand why you feel the way you do because we’ve been pretty silent until now. That’s how rumors start. When there’s a vacuum of information people make up rumors. But we have no choice in that and we have no choice in not telling you more. But from what I know, at this time, with all the information I know, I know this is the right decision.”
The Somerset County Prosecutor's Office took over leadership in July at the request of the council and began an evaluation of the department. Last week, the investigation revealed widespread abuse of a type of paid time off given to officers. Cops can take union time, or union leave, to attend PBA functions and is included in their contract. However, a statement made by the township said that it’s usually limited to PBA delegates and presidents. There were almost 12,000 hours of union leave taken between 2016 and 2019 by 59 officers.
The ordinance removes the police chief and deputy chief of police and gives administrative control to the department director, who officials said would be more accountable to Township Manager Robert Vornlocker, while leaving law enforcement matters to the officer in charge.
“The civilian public safety director is in charge of the administrative part of the department and the law enforcement parts of the department will still report to whoever the officer in charge is. This will undoubtedly be a captain because while not reducing the number of command staff positions, this actually makes three captains as opposed to one captain, a deputy chief and a chief,” Township Attorney Louis Rainone said.
After the abrupt retirement in July of former police Chief Richard Grammar and Capt. Gregory Borlan – the township’s two highest-ranked officers – the department lacked a captain to promote. The next highest rank in the department is lieutenant. According to the township’s previous requirements for promotion to chief, a lieutenant would be eligible for the position after six years holding the rank.
With the lack of command staff to replace Grammar and Borlan, Kramer said the township invited the county prosecutor to run the department. Somerset County Prosecutor Michael Robertson sent the county’s Chief of Detectives John Fodor to oversee the department.
Once the director of public safety is hired, the ordinance doesn’tchange the law enforcement functions of the department.
“The chain of command remains the same from the officer in charge to the prosecutor to the attorney general, so it doesn’t alter any of that,” Rainone said. “It just takes the administrative responsibilities of the department and puts them under the director.”
Residents spoke out against the removal of a police chief, but the council was unconvinced.
“I know in my heart that this is the right thing and that is why I am not swayed by the people here saying what they are saying,” Kramer said. “Sometimes a leader has to go against what the public says, and I’m not sure that you represent all of the public, but they have to go against what they public says because they know it’s the right thing.”