Tuesday, December 06, 2005

New Police Plan Dissolves Narcotics Bureau

In the final 24 days of the current administration, Public Affairs and Safety Director Jiles Ship is launching a new police deployment plan that eliminates the Narcotics Bureau and assigns officers by city wards.

The plan begins today (Dec. 7, 2005).

Police Benevolent Association Local 19 President Andre Crawford criticized both the timing and scope of the plan.

"It makes no sense," he said. "This plan is really unsafe."

The Police Division has traditionally had five bureaus, covering functions of management, staff support, drug and vice investigation, solving crimes and citywide patrol. See the Plainfield Police Division’s web site at www.plainfieldpolice.com for descriptions of each bureau’s work.

The new plan includes numerous transfers of officers and superiors out of the Narcotics Bureau and calls for three captains to supervise officers assigned to districts that approximate the city’s four wards. It also does away with the downtown Community Oriented Police (COP) unit, although stating officers will still carry out COP duties from their new assignments.

Capt. Anthony Celentano will be assigned to District 1, with 22 officers and five sergeants.

Capt. Mark Edwards will be in charge of Districts 2 and 3, with six sergeants and 12 officers covering District 2 and four sergeants and 10 officers assigned to District 3.

District 4 will be led by Capt. Keith Lattimore and will have four sergeants and 18 officers.

Any previously-scheduled days off or vacation will stay in effect, according to the plan.

Every day, the district captains are to meet at 10 a.m. to go over crime patterns. They will have the power to redeploy officers as necessary. The captains are mandated to ensure unequivocal enforcement of all police-related ordinances. Police will refer other violations to the appropriate city agencies.

The former Narcotics Bureau staff will be reassigned to Criminal Investigation and the Uniform Bureau, with other transfers among the two latter bureaus.

Crawford said the plan will disrupt his members’ lives, especially those being transferred, and may not last past the end of the year, when Ship’s term expires. Meanwhile, with officers out on vacations or sick leave, he said, coverage will be more difficult and response time could suffer.

The director of Public Affairs and Safety is one of three department heads whose terms are concurrent with the mayor’s term. Incumbent Mayor Albert T. McWilliams will leave office Dec. 31 and Mayor-elect Sharon Robinson-Briggs can appoint a new cabinet, with City Council approval.

The question of whether the city even needs a director of Public Affairs and Safety has been raised many times, most recently at Monday’s City Council meeting. The civilian director is the department head over the Police and Fire Divisions, each of which has a chief.

Ship was hired in acting capacity in 2004 after Mayor Albert McWilliams abruptly fired former Public Affairs and Safety Director Michael Lattimore. At intervals since then, Ship has announced new deployment plans, but they have never been implemented.

Councilman Ray Blanco, who represents all four wards, said in a phone interview Monday the new scheme is “too little, too late.“

The plan did not require City Council approval.

Since Robinson-Briggs emerged as mayor-elect in the Nov. 8 general election, a City Council majority has held up many decisions, in deference to the new administration that will take hold Jan. 1. The budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 is among the delayed items, which also include various appointments and contracts.

In proposed budget amendments, a council finance committee recommended deletion of funding for the Public Affairs and Safety director‘s position, but then agreed to allow the new administration to decide what to do about the controversial job.

Ship did not return a call for comment on the new plan Tuesday.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: police