Bergen Residents Call on Freeholders to 'Get on Same Page'
At the final Bergen County Freeholders Listening Tour, residents expressed frustration with the governing body's lack of information
Over the past week, residents from across Bergen County have been flocking to the Freeholders Listening Tour dates seeking additional information about a proposed referendum and ordinance to combine the County Police and Sheriff's Department. While a judge blocked the referendum from moving forward on Friday afternoon, Paramus residents recently turned out to call on the Board of Freeholders to begin working together and actually provide the public with information.
"All we have access to is what we read in the paper as John Q Public," former Paramus Police officer Steve Sullivan said. "We pay the salaries of the county police and sheriff's department and we don't know what's going on. Is there a plan because no one has ever come out and said what it is. You have a responsibility to get on the same page and tell us if this is a good plan or not and where the savings to the taxpayer is."
Retired police officer Fred Saverlo of Paramus had the harshest words for the Freeholders, calling them clowns and the whole situation a circus.
"I'm a retired police officer, having joined in 1968 and this topic has been around since then," Saverlo said. "You should be ashamed of yourselves and should know what you're doing. You called for a listening tour - that's like a brain surgeon calling for a tour of how to do an operation. This is the circus in town and you are the clowns."
During a Special Meeting on August 10 of the Freeholders, the board voted 4-2 on a referendum for the public's input on merging the County Police and Sheriff's Department along with an ordinance to do the same thing. Shortly thereafter, Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan filed a lawsuit against the county freeholders to block a second reading of an ordinance that would dissolve the county police, and prevent a ballot question on merging the department with the sheriff's office.
Bergen County Superior Judge Menelaos Toskos ruled on Friday, that while the referendum could not go forward, the freeholders could proceed to a second reading of an ordinance dissolving the county police and transfer their function to the sheriff’s office.
"I don't know if the merger is a good idea or a bad one," David Nitel of Paramus said. Nitel is a volunteer with the Bergen County Community Emergency Response Team. "What I do know is what I've read in the paper about Bergen County government is appalling. This disfunctional divernment has to stop. You have to work together and not have these issues resolved in the courts. That's not the way to do it."
Much of the contention around a potential merger revolves around two reports: the $600,000 Guidepost study which recommended that the County Police be downsided or eliminated and the Creamer study which argued against the merger.
The Guidepost study actually made several recommendations for cost savings:
- Reduce the size of the county police department by cutting 23 officers and two civilians, which the study said would save $2.9 million per year.
- An initial reduction in the size of the county police department, followed by a transfer of its remaining functions to the sheriff’s office, which would save $54 million per year.
- Eliminate the sheriff’s Special Operations Group (SOG) and its functions shifted into the county police SWAT team.
- Eliminate the county police water search and recovery unit, a task that could be handled by a similar state police unit at a savings of $90,000.
- Consolidate the County and Sheriff K9 units
- Elimiate County and Sheriff mounted units and Sheriff motorcycle unit
The Creamer report, which was issued by the Bergen County Law Enforcement Consolidation Task Force, stated that based on increased retirements, the newly enacted 2 percent spending cap coupled with pension and benefits reform could leave local police with manpower challenges, with county police officers being relied on to back up local agencies and that merging the two departments would be "be too big of a task for any one person."
"The biggest problem with this entire thing is you have created animosity between two agencies where there should not be," former Paramus Councilman Alan Brundage said. Brundage is an officer in the Bergen County Police. "If you can not come together annd work this out, then there is no getting beyond this."
"You should not be listening to us, we should be listening to you," Bergen County Police Officer Tom Miller of Fair Lawn said. "You should have all the answers. It's our careers on the line and we don't know what's next after this. I have a son in college and a daughter getting ready and I have eight more years until I could retire."
On Monday, the state Appellate Court denied the Freeholder's emergency request to hear their appeal citing the lack of a genuine emergency. The Court did allow the possiblity the Freeholders could seek an appeal on a normal schedule, but that timing could eliminate the change for a November 6 ballot question.
The Freeholders are scheduled to meet on Wednesday, 7:30pm in the Public Meeting Room (5th Floor), One Bergen County Plaza, Hackensack, to vote on the proposed ordinance to merge the two departments.