SOMERSET, NJ - The council passed an ordinance on first reading Tuesday night that reorganizes the police department’s top brass.
The restructuring comes on the heels of the recent departure of Richard Grammar, who took over as chief of police in 2018 and retired at the end of June, and Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office Chief of Detectives John W. Fodor being appointed to lead the police department as it undergoes an evaluation by the prosecutor’s office.
Some residents that spoke at the council meeting said the change seemed rushed. In response, township officials stressed that this legislation doesn’t make an appointment.
Instead, it creates the position to smooth the transition after the prosecutor’s office finishes their review. “The truth is that I don’t anticipate the prosecutor's office process to be exceptionally long and the township needs to move forward,” Robert Vornlocker, township manager and former township police officer, said.
The ordinance, which will be up for final passage at the Aug. 13 council meeting, removes the positions of chief of police and deputy chief of police in favor of a director of public safety and officer in charge. It also increases the number of captains on the force from one to three. But it’s more than just a change of title.
According to the ordinance, the director of public safety will have to report at least monthly to Vornlocker. There were no such requirements of the chief of police.
The chief of police, like all department heads, always reported to the manager. This ordinance makes it a monthly requirement. “The fact of the matter is that this gives the council more of a say,” Township Attorney Louis Rainone said. “Because right now as the chief of police he’s not answerable to anybody for the day to day operations of the police department. He’s not answerable to the manager or to the council and he can’t be removed.”
Under the new legislation, the head cop no longer has lifetime tenure, which township officials say will strengthen the accountability of the police. It also removes the requirement that the director of public safety comes from the ranks of the police department.
Vornlocker said that opening up the hiring process beyond current officers “will allow the township to obtain a fresh perspective” for the department. It’s unclear how long Fodor will serve as the officer in charge in Franklin, or how long the evaluation by the county will take.
After the departure of the department’s two ranking officers was announced in June, the council passed a resolution accepting the prosecutor’s offer of assistance and appointed Fodor to lead the review of the department and oversee its daily operations.
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