Top-heavy, underworked, and technologically challenged. An audit of the Hoboken Police Department conducted by the state Department of Community Affairs has confirmed public perceptions that the police force is in need of reform.
Will the report be used by the city to cut costs, and if so, would any cuts affect essential police services?
One police union representative claims the report is severely flawed, and that the implementation of its recommendations could put the safety of residents in jeopardy.
“Sixty officers to patrol the whole city?” – Vincent Lombardi
Zimmer said last week that she agrees in principle that the police force is overstaffed, but will proceed “calmly” in evaluating the audit recommendations.
Police Chief Anthony Falco would not discuss the audit last week, claiming he first needs to review it with Zimmer and other officials.
At a crossroads
The audit was conducted over eight weeks a year ago by a former police chief in Maplewood, N.J., who said in the report that the Hoboken Police Department is at a “crossroads.” The report lays out several recommendations to improve the effectiveness and cost efficiency of the department.
The report recommends the department be reduced from 158 uniformed personnel to between 112 and 102, depending on whom the city cuts. The police force currently has 104 patrol personnel and 54 supervising officers, or two officers for every supervisor, according to the audit.
In Hoboken, patrol personnel earn an average of $67,925 per year, and supervising officers earn on average $99,572.
The audit recommends adding at least eight civilian employees for training, records, dispatch, and evidence management. For special events like the popular St. Patrick’s Day Parade (which will be this Saturday), the report advocates using special law enforcement officers (SLEOs). But those were referred to in an interview as “part-time cops doing a part-time job” by police union President Vincent Lombardi.
Additionally, the report calls for the city to eliminate the director of public safety, a $27,500-per-year position filled two years ago after a police scandal. The audit called the job “unnecessary.”
Other recommendations include a review of policies such as officers’ second (non-police) jobs (moonlighting); investing in fleet and technology upgrades; and the rehabilitation of the police headquarters at 106 Hudson St.
Councilman Ravi Bhalla, chairman of the Council’s Public Safety Committee, said the council will review the recommendations and speak with police officials and Zimmer before acting on the audit.
“I think the audit recommends some substantial changes in the staffing levels of the Police Department,” Bhalla said in an interview. “Its contents should be given serious consideration.”
Given the revealing nature of the audit, Bhalla said he will be interested in other issues that may come forth when the city completes its audits for the Fire Department and municipal workers.
“There might be similar findings in other departments,” he said. “This might be the source of the tax burden our residents endured.”
He said taxpayer savings might not be realized this fiscal year (ending June 30), but saving are coming soon.
The savings are important in tough times, Bhalla said, “which really makes it strange that the audit wasn’t released earlier.”
Zimmer kept asking the state for the audit, and was told that the document just needed some editing.
Angel Alicea, who was appointed public safety director under former Mayor Peter Cammarano and still holds the job today, said cities require a liaison between police, fire, and the city administration.
“You saw what happened when we didn’t have a public safety director,” Alicea said. He said that he is defending the position of director, not just his appointment.
The audit also recommends that the city consider extending the police work week to 40 hours. Officers currently work five eight-hour shifts over eight days, which results in an average 35-hour week. Addressing the officers’ work week must be done in contract negotiations, as the audit recommends doing.
In fact, the city is currently negotiating with the unions, a duty that Tripodi was handling until recently. She was removed from the negotiations by the new interim commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs, Lori Grifa.
Tripodi has declined to comment, but Zimmer said the council will vote on the contract that Tripodi and the police union have agreed on. Zimmer said the council received approval from the state to consider the terms of the proposed contract in open session at their next meeting, and the public will be able to ask questions.
However, most insiders believe the council will not approve the contract. Then, the city would resume negotiations with the police union, but who has the power to finally approve it is unclear.
Zimmer said the state Attorney General’s Office is reviewing the terms of the state fiscal intervention that brought Tripodi to City Hall, and trying to determine who will have the final approval of the contracts for the city.
“I honestly do not know [whom] the final say rests with,” Zimmer said. “I would prefer to be part of the process if the terms are voted down.”
Days off for donating blood
There are other terms of employment that might need to be addressed in negotiations, according to the audit. Officers annually use, on average, 19.6 vacation days; 9.9 sick days; two days for donating blood, jury duty, marriage leave, union business, conventions, and other excused absences.
Police are entitled to bereavement leave of five days, marriage leave of six days, three emergency days for family illness, and 14 holidays. They are also entitled to one day off for each of several religious ceremonies, graduation, or participation in a baptism or wedding.
Union fires back
Police union president Vincent Lombardi said last week that the audit was done “haphazardly” and with faulty methods. He said the recommendation for the reduction in staff is based on logged service calls, but he said many officers are able to curtail some situations without any record of the interaction.
“Sixty officers to patrol the whole city?” he said. “That’s one of the biggest glaring mistakes in the whole report.”
He said reductions in other departments like traffic control also seem unreasonable, especially given the amount of traffic in town.
“We’re just barely holding the line now,” he said. “The numbers just don’t work.”
Timothy J. Carroll may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.