MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Members of the Township Committee, the Maplewood Police Department, and the public discussed the Maplewood Police Auxiliary and whether it needs to remain armed on Wednesday night’s Public Safety Committee’s streaming meeting. The more than two hours of discussion was the last item on the agenda; the entire meeting was over five hours long, ending at 12:45 a.m. on Thursday.

At their July 21 meeting, The Township Committee extended the deactivation of the Auxiliary — originally deactivated to limit their exposure during the coronavirus pandemic — through Oct. 21 to address the topic.

Throughout the discussion, Police Chief Jim DeVaul showed his support of the all-volunteer Auxiliary, of which he himself was a member before becoming a police officer. “Their service is invaluable to the town,” he said. “They are selfless as a unit.”

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A point was made that according to the unit’s Standard Operating Procedure document there are two distinct times when the Auxiliary members are allowed to carry a weapon: during an emergency or during training “under supervision.” DeVaul said that when an Auxiliary member is out during an emergency, “there’s virtually no difference between them and a regular police officer,” and as such he would not ask them to do those duties without a gun. Non-emergent situations are considered training, and therefore they are armed at all times when they are on duty. They are not allowed to bring home the weapon when not on duty.

Deputy Mayor Dean Dafis questioned DeVaul’s broad definitions of emergency and training. If they are so broad, Dafis said, “Then we’re…saying, ‘I can’t see any circumstance where the Auxiliary can still engage and serve without a firearm. It’s always going to be emergency and it’s always going to be training.’ But I don’t think you mean that, right?”

“No, actually I do mean that,” DeVaul answered. The volunteers are there for extra manpower in emergencies and it would be “inappropriate” to utilize the unit “to replace something that’s missing in the police department,” he said. “When we’re teaching them crowd control or how to enforce certain laws, it’s all considered training. It’s never routine that they’re coming out…. They’re not just coming out to just come out. They’re coming out to further learn and further train for times of emergency such as this.”

He also noted that he “would not put them in a situation where they are in a uniform without a firearm.”

During the public question and comment portion of the meeting, some 20 residents spoke, unanimously using each of their three minutes to advocate for the de-arming of the 13-member unit. Several members of the Mapso Youth Coalition were concerned with a lack of transparency and community input in the process leading to any decision the Township Committee might make.

Dr. Kadijah White, a resident who also serves as SOMA Justice president, said that unarmed auxiliaries are “the majority model of the state” among towns that have auxiliaries. 

Several residents questioned how every shift could be considered training, and DeVaul said that training is ongoing. “It seems to me that everything cannot be training,” said White. 

Addressing Committee Members Vic DeLuca and Nancy Adams specifically, White said, “This is when you step up. This is when you choose to stand with people who are telling you they are afraid every time they leave their house.”

She acknowledged the political power a police department can hold. “I know the police are difficult. I know they often decide elections. I’ve watched the Fraternal Order of Police literally destroy careers. But that is what makes this a powerful choice. Ms. Adams, Mr. DeLuca, that is what makes listening to the community — to thinking about what Brionna [Taylor] means — important. If you give guns to people with less experience, you have to think about how they might be used.”

The discussion will guide the Township Committee as they take up the topic at their next meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 20. The public may comment during that streaming meeting as well. A document of frequently asked questions about the Auxiliary which includes the Standard Operating Procedures has been posted on the Township’s website. 

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