Captain Shuns Demotion
Plainfield Police Captain Siddeeq El-Amin says he will leave and retire immediately rather than have his rank reduced to lieutenant.
“I won’t take the demotion – I’m in a position where I don’t have to,” he said.
El-Amin is one of three captains targeted by the administration for demotions to save money in the FY 2010 budget, now in its third quarter of spending without final passage. He is on the verge of retirement after more than 29 years with the Plainfield Police Division and had planned to leave the post July 24 on final leave until coming off the payroll on Jan 24, 2011.
Rather than give up his title, he said, he will take a lump sum payout of $15,000 and be gone.
Of the other two captains slated for demotion, Captain Anthony Celentano is eligible for retirement but has not applied and Captain Michael Gilliam is a couple years shy of eligibility to retire, he said.
El-Amin believes the new money-saving ploy of demoting public safety staff came out of workshops at the League of Municipalities a couple of years ago. Each November, the League holds a convention with seminars and workshops on how to increase government effectiveness and cut costs. Police and fire budgets in many cities have been the elephants in the room at budget time for many years. Even though they tend to reflect the largest salary and wage expense, governing bodies have been loath to make cuts in public safety costs.
The idea of shaving costs through demotions may be especially unsettling. One of the attractions of a career in public safety is the ability to rise through the ranks and become chief someday.
“That is true,” El-Amin said – at least it was in Plainfield until discussions came up on how to get former Police Chief Edward Santiago to “retire, leave or whatever,” El-Amin said.
Starting in 2006, Santiago and new Public Affairs & Safety Director Martin Hellwig appeared increasingly at odds over management of the Police Division. Santiago was sitting in City Hall Library one night in the summer of 2007 when a slide on Hellwig’s Power Point presentation popped up the recommendation, “Eliminate the rank of chief of police.”
A 2008 layoff plan was aimed at just one person, Santiago, who then faced the choice of dismissal or being demoted to captain. Ironically, due to a lapse in non-union salaries keeping pace with union settlements, Santiago stayed on and ended up making more as a captain than as chief.
Meanwhile, demotions have caught on to the point where several New Jersey cities cited them this year as necessary to balance budgets.
El-Amin disputed the administration’s claim that demotion of three captains could save $400,000 or more in the FY 2010 budget year. Captain Keith Lattimore retired in December and the post will not be filled, he said, so there may already be savings for the year. But the difference between a captain’s salary and that of a lieutenant will yield maybe only $10,000 to $15,000 through the mid-year demotions, he said.
El-Amin, 64, joined the Plainfield Police Division in September 1980. He has been a captain since April 1999. During Mayor Mark Fury’s tenure, he served for a time in one of the same posts Hellwig currently holds, director of Public Affairs & Safety. A daughter, Mahasin, has followed him into law enforcement with the PPD and his wife, Faheemah, served on the Plainfield City Council. El-Amin has served in several capacities with the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and is presently the organization’s Region One vice president, representing New Jersey, New York and six other Northeast states.
El-Amin sees many post-retirement opportunities for continued service in either the private or public law enforcement sector after leaving as captain. He still thinks the demotion tactic is a bad approach to solving local budget woes. Lacking a permanent chief, he said, the city has “no secure advocate” for police.
In recent days, Police Benevolent Association President Andre Crawford announced a union “vote of no confidence” in Hellwig. Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and members of the City Council countered with a press conference Monday in support of Hellwig.
As for El-Amin, the fray will soon be behind him.