Thursday, March 06, 2008

Council Approves Director Title Over Chief

A pair of ordinances aimed at replacing the police chief with a civilian director passed on first reading at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

One abolishes the title of police chief that has been on city books for 139 years. The city has already asked state permission to lay off incumbent Chief Edward Santiago, who came up through the ranks over 30 years and was named chief about nine years ago. Council members Rashid Burney, Don Davis, William Reid, Elliott Simmons and Linda Carter voted “yes” to abolish the chief’s title and Councilman Cory Storch and Council President Harold Gibson abstained.

The second ordinance creates the title of police director with a term concurrent to that of the mayor appointing the person to the post. The police director will have no police powers as defined by state law and will be in charge of day-to-day operations of the Police Division. The ordinance also allows for a table of organization that almost doubles the possible number of captains, more than triples the number of lieutenants, more than doubles sergeants and adds about 100 patrol officers to the current 153.

Burney, Davis, Reid and Simmons voted “yes” and Storch and Carter voted “no.” Gibson sought the opinion of Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson on whether the ordinance would put the person in charge of emergency management on the same level as the fire chief and police director. Assured that it would not, Gibson then voted “yes.”

The votes came after several objectors deplored the change.

“You are sowing the seeds of the future here,” resident Sandy Gurshman said, adding, “I don’t think it’s a good future.”

Dairy Queen owner Donna Albanese said she and many others have Santiago’s cell phone number and can call him at any time.

“I think that kind of service is extraordinary,” she said. “I’m uncomfortable with what is going on. It feels political.”

Flor Gonzalez of the Latin American Coalition predicted an adverse effect on the Police Division, where captains would never be able to attain the rank of chief.

“Why do this to your police department?” she asked.

The ordinances will be up for second reading at the March 19 meeting at 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia


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