I have confidence in the men and women of the Franklin Township Police Department in Somerset County, New Jersey. They have performed their public safety mission in a stellar manner.
Now they are being undermined by a proposal to insert a politically connected six-figure salaried police director, which will cost the town more money and deliver less service. As I am an optimist, I believe our Mayor and Council will come to the publicly beneficial determination that they will not travel down the rutted road towards weakening our robust law enforcement officials.
In the years I was mayor in this municipality of 60,000+ residents, from 2004 through 2014, our police department was the envy of many in New Jersey – due to our diversity, training, equipment, and Mayor support.
Police Departments are led by one of two officials: (1) a Police Chief, who is a professional police officer, starting as a patrol officer, who then comes through the ranks obtaining solid experience, to lead a department, or (2) a police director, who is a political appointee, who may have absolutely no public safety experience at all.
Police directors, ironically, cannot, under New Jersey law, make any command decisions – they are well-paid figureheads. The overwhelmingly grand majority of New Jersey municipalities have police chiefs; a select few, like Camden and Newark, have opted for police directors.
In Franklin Township, we currently have senior officers who are not only qualified to be police chiefs, but are ready, are willing, and are able to take the helm as chief.
New Jersey has assured built-in safeguards: the County Prosecutor is the Chief Law Enforcement Officer in each county. Police chiefs can and do go to County Prosecutors constantly for guidance and assistance. As I am the Freeholder Director in Somerset County, I am well acquainted with our Somerset County Prosecutor, Mike Robertson – a man of integrity, ability, and conviction, who is always willing to assist our police chiefs.
During my tenure as Mayor, the Council and I worked exceedingly cooperatively, professionally, and cordially with the police chief, senior staff, and officers in the police department. Our officers were some of the best-equipped, best trained, and best-respected in the state. There were no scandals, no issues, no takeover. Leadership and clear direction win out.
Have police departments been perfect? Of course not; no worldly organization is, as they are comprised of flawed humans.
But, in Franklin Township in Somerset County, we do have officers who do their jobs reliably and consistently, yet volunteer time to their community. They have always been led by proud and strong leadership (i.e., a professional chief): disciplined, yet fair; stern on criminals, yet compassionate to citizens; schooled in modern policing techniques, yet trained to embrace our diverse community. I fear this will change with a “director.”
I fear our police morale will suffer.
I fear our young and senior officers, who aspire to command positions, will be disheartened. I fear a political appointee, who did not come through the police ranks, will leave our municipality in shambles. I fear our beautiful, diverse citizenry, who currently have confidence in their public safety officials, will be let down and become fearful themselves.
I am angry that insurance company executives, with no medical experience, tell doctors how to practice medicine. I do not want an analogous situation whereby a political appointee, with no public safety experience, tells our police what to do.
I, for one, support our men and women in blue. Checks and balances are in place. Keep a qualified expert, a police chief, as our public safety leader. Let us give our public safety officials the dignity they have rightly earned and the respect they truly deserve.