PATERSON, NJ – Mayor Jeffrey Jones is hoping the city’s challenge of its census count will allow Paterson to conduct a national search for its next police chief.

Jones said in an interview on Monday that he plans to use former chief James Wittig’s retirement two week ago as an opportunity for sweeping change in the department. For example, Jones said he would like to see the police department reorganized in a way that’s “more conducive to urban living.’’ The mayor said he would provide additional details on his plans at a later date.

Sign Up for E-News

For now, Jones must replace Wittig through New Jersey’s civil service process, which would limit the job search to high-ranking officers already on the Paterson police force.

But if Paterson succeeded in getting its census count adjusted to a population of more than 150,000 people, then it would be considered a “city of the first class,’’ a designation that would allow officials much more latitude in hiring the next police chief. Last year, the federal government put Paterson’s census count at 146,199, a figure widely disputed among city officials and community leaders who insist that many immigrants went uncounted.

It was not clear how long it would take for a decision on Paterson’s census challenge.

The New Jersey Civil Service Commission is planning to announce its next statewide test for police chief in March. The exam’s results likely would be ready at the start of the summer, officials said.

Under normal procedures, only officers at the next lowest rank – deputy chief - would be eligible to take the test, according to civil service officials. But Paterson has the option of asking the state to open the field to include captains as well, according to the state. Such requests are routinely approved, state officials said.

City Council Public Safety Chairman William McKoy has been a strong advocate of opening the chief’s test to Paterson’s captains. Expanding the pool would make the process more competitive, McKoy said.  “We feel that can only bring the best out,’’ he said.

Jones agreed with that viewpoint. “We want the search to be as broad as possible,’’ said the mayor

At present, deputy chief William Fraher is serving as acting chief for a 30-day interim period that runs through the end of this month. Jones would not say whether he will keep Fraher in the temporary position beyond those 30 days or name someone else as a fill-in.