MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The Maplewood Police Auxiliary will no longer be able to carry firearms.
The decision by the Maplewood Township Committee came last night after 90-day review period suspended their volunteer activities; that decision was reached in July just after a contentious Public Safety Committee meeting discussing the topic.
Yesterday’s vote was split, with Mayor Frank McGehee, Deputy Mayor Dean Dafis — who both serve on the PSC — and Committee Member Vic DeLuca voting yes. Committee Member Nancy Adams abstained, having favored further time to discuss a compromise approach which would have allowed the unit to carry arms in certain circumstances. PSC Chair Greg Lembrich voted no.
During the review period, hundreds of residents had reached out to the TC members by phone, email, and social media, largely in favor of disarming the unit. At last week’s Public Safety Committee meeting, not one public commenter was in favor of the unit remaining armed. During the public comment portion of last night’s meeting, the opinions also weighed heavily in favor of disarming.
“I do not have all the answers for how to fix all inequities or challenges within our community, but I have listened and heard the voices of our community,” said McGehee during the discussion that proceeded the vote. “While I do not think that we should disband the auxiliary police volunteer program, tonight I will go on record to say that we need to completely disarm this voluntary program forever and suspend the program indefinitely until we can rewrite our standard operating procedures and develop a new training program that decouples training from any need for the use of a firearm by volunteers and residents. And if we think that we are unable to reimagine an auxiliary police volunteer program that does not carry firearms, then I would move to disband the program.” The TC vote did include a continuation of the suspension of the auxiliary, with no timeline for its return.
The current standard operating procedures for the auxiliary outline that a firearm may be carried during an emergency or during training. Many times during the public discussions Police Chief Jim DeVaul stated that all duties of the Police Auxiliary fell under one category or the other.
The mayor’s response to that assertion was clear. “I am not comfortable, nor will I ever be, with training being a rationale or blanket coverage to allow volunteers to carry guns when performing non-emergency duties, or to be authorized to carry firearms.”
During the discussion, Dafis relayed that auxiliary members had told him they would not volunteer if unarmed, and therefore a vote to disarm would mean the disbanding of the unit. “I did not hear from anyone saying, 'hey, listen, let's work this out. You know, maybe we could…[or] we should do our duties differently'” so as to not need a firearm, he said. “And that's problematic for me, too, which goes back to why I think we need to rebuild what we currently have.”
Lembrich offered the dissenting opinion. “I am not comfortable disarming the auxiliary. I cannot in good conscience ask for auxiliary officers or their families to do the job we ask of them without being armed.”
Lembrich was also concerned that the lack of the currently 13-member unit would mean “we'll be less safe. I think we'll have less patrols and cars with trained officers to deter and respond to crime.” He added there may be a financial cost down the road. “We're gonna have lower protection and lower presence in our community and at our events. And this may ultimately lead to us having to hire more full-time officers.”
When DeVaul spoke yesterday, he seemed to understand the mood in the virtual room when he said of a decision to disarm, “Whether there's some sort of a CERT [Community Emergency Response Team] team or some sort of other job responsibilities, I already accept my role — that there's going to be some change in what my part in that is going to be. So I'm going to do my part. And I would just ask the committemen to put their trust in me and the faith in me to guide them.”
He also noted before the vote, “No matter how this goes, I feel that we're going to, hopefully,... go someplace where everybody can be happy and feel safe.”
The Police Auxiliary discussion begins at 2:32:45 in the recording.
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