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Bergen Residents Want Details on County Police Merger

Bergen County Freeholders visited Westwood to get opinions on a proposed consolidation of county police agencies, but many residents and police said they needed better information about the plan.

Bergen County residents and police officers said they needed more information about a proposal to dissolve the Bergen County Police Department or merge it with the sheriff's office during a "listening tour" meeting in Westwood Wednesday.

The county freeholders earlier this month which would transfer the powers if the Bergen County Police to the Bergen County Sheriff's Office. After County Executive Kathleen Donovan and a non-binding referendum, freeholders announced they would hold a six-stop "listening tour" to hear opinions from county residents.

Much of the discussion focused on the definition of "dissolve" in the proposed ordinance. Bergen County Police Officers at the meeting said they were worried about their jobs because of the unclear wording.

"You have 89 members of my department on pins and needles," County Police Officer Tom Miller said.

The ordinance states that the powers and duties of the county police would be transferred to the Bergen County Sheriff, but how that would happen is not specified.

Several residents at the meeting said they would support consolidating the two agencies through attrition, so as to save money in the future without having to lay off any county officers.

"You don't want to cut them off at the knees," Westwood Fire Chief Jaymee Hodges said.

Miller, of the County Police Department, estimated it could be 10 years before savings are seen from attrition.

Westwood resident Michael Goldberg said he favored consolidating the two agencies. Other counties have managed to save money by cutting down on administrative costs, he said.

"Taxes in those counties are much lower because of consolidated police and education systems," Goldberg said.

Freeholder Robert Hermansen said he believed officials need to develop a plan before they can consolidate, calling the way they had proceeded so far "moronic." Hermansen said he believed a non-binding referendum on the issue should be included for voters in November, and then a plan could be included for a future budget.

Freeholder Maura DeNicola said she opposed the referendum. The non-binding question would ask voters if they wanted the freeholders to combine the two law enforcement agencies.

"I believe you elected us to make the tough decisions," DeNicola said.

Westwood Mayor John Birkner agreed that the referendum may not be the way to go because voters may not be fully informed on the issue. Much of the information on the possible merger comes from a pair of lengthy documents — the Guidepost Report and the Creamer Report — which many residents may not have read.

Freeholders have four more meetings scheduled on their "listening tour:" 6 p.m. Thursday in the Northvale Senior Center, 7 p.m. Sept. 4 in Teaneck's Richard Rodda Center, 7 p.m. Sept. 5 in the North Arlington Council Chambers and 7 p.m. Sept. 7 in the Paramus Court Room. Residents can also email their opinions to bergenlisteningtour@gmail.com.

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