A proposal to audit the Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) in an effort to redeploy where police personnel is deployed was rejected by the City Council majority at its meeting on Oct. 10. A similar proposal was withdrawn in June after the city attorney said that the measure would have violated state law.
At present, the city has a law – passed during the administration of Mayor Anthony Cucci – that requires it to conduct independent reviews of city departments every four years. Despite this law, no such review has been done on the JCPD since the Cucci administration.
While the current administration of Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy, including Police Chief Tom Comey point to various statistics showing that crime is down overall in the city, the perception among many residents is that crime is high and is increasing. In addition, At-large City Councilman Rolando Lavarro Jr. has stated that while crime may be down overall citywide, in certain sections of the city crime is actually increasing statistically.
“This is where I live. I don’t need a study I need help.” – LaVerne Washington
Thus, in June Lavarro introduced a measure that would require the city to conduct an audit of the JCPD to determine how police resources are currently deployed and how they might be better deployed. He withdrew the ordinance after Corporation Counsel William Matsikoudis stated that the council did not have the authority to compel the mayor to conduct such a study.
Lavarro re-wrote his ordinance and reintroduced it before the council on Oct. 9.
A majority of the council rejected the measure, however, due to concerns about cost and whether the audit would lead to meaningful anti-crime measures.
Council members Viola Richardson, Michele Massey, Peter Brennan, Michael Sottolano, and William Gaughan voted against Lavarro’s ordinance. Lavarro supported the measure and was joined by Council members Steven, Fulop, Nidia Lopez, and David Donnelly.
Different interpretations of state law
According to city law, each mayoral administration is supposed to conduct department reviews after it has been in office for three years.
Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy was elected to his current term in May 2009, which means department reviews should be conducted in 2012, according to the law.
Such audits were once overseen by the Governor’s Management Improvement Program and were supposed to be conducted by National League of Cities or the New Jersey League of Municipalities.
An audit of the JCPD would, according to Lavarro, measure the “efficiency of police operations, personnel matters, budgetary matters, patrol operations, investigative operations, administrative operations, planning and development, and overall administration” of the department.
But Matsikouis said that such an audit violated state governance laws.
“Provided it has proper legislative purpose, the council may conduct an investigation into the operations of the police department,” Matsikoudis wrote in a legal opinion given to the council last week. But Lavarro’s ordinance, he said, “does not authorize an investigation to be conducted by the council within its statutory powers.”
Lavarro countered this argument by bringing another attorney – Alexander Saingchin – to the City Council Caucus meeting on Oct. 9.
Saingchin told the council that under state law they had the authority to “investigate matters in furtherance of [your] legislative function.”
Some members of the council who voted against the measure believed that it is up to the mayor, not the city council, to initiate a department audit.
But other concerns were raised about Lavarro’s ordinance.
Comey, who attended the Oct. 9 caucus meeting, said, “I don’t have a problem with the ordinance per se,” but said he is concerned “that something like this could go on ad infinitum and could get very costly…I’d rather have that money to put cops on the street.”
Ward F Councilwoman Michele Massey also questioned “where the money is going to come from for this audit.” Addressing Lavarro, she asked, “Are you saying the money is going to come from the police department budget?”
Lavarro later told the Reporter that the city of South Orange recently completed a similar audit of its police operations and paid about $50,000 for the study to be done.
Several City Council members – including some who supported the intent of Lavarro’s ordinance, but who did not vote for it – said that calls for a JCPD audit came about partly because Comey has not provided information regarding officer deployments across the city.
Comey denied this claim, however, saying, “I’ve provided you with that information.”
While some members of the council opposed Lavarro’s measure because they believed it conflicted with state law, others said they opposed it simply because the results of paid studies often go unheeded and common sense already dictates what needs to be done to lower crime in the city.
“I’m sick of studies,” said At-large City Councilwoman Viola Richardson, who then recounted several studies she has supported over the years that, she said, “are sitting on shelves collecting dust. It means nothing. It’s a waste of money. I’m not voting for another study. We know what needs to be done. No one is going to convince me that crime is going down in this city. We need more police presence and we need foot patrols.”
Several members of the public who attended the Oct. 10 City Council meeting thanked Lavarro for his intention, but agreed with Richardson that the solutions to the crime problem should be obvious without doing an audit.
Holding up a crime story recently published in the local daily newspaper, resident and activist LaVerne Washington said, “This is where I live. I don’t need a study. I need help.”
A woman was recently mugged on her street, Washington said, and a young man was killed in her neighborhood three weeks ago. A frequent attendee at the City Council meetings, Washington recounted her efforts over the years to get a recreation center or boxing club started in her Ward F neighborhood so “we have something to offer our youth, so they’re not just in the street.”
She mentioned a 15-year-old teen who she has worked with who was recently released from jail and she expressed fear that without something to keep him occupied he will again be arrested and back in jail soon.
Other residents, however, said an audit of the JCPD could yield useful information.
John Seborowski said, “Councilman Lavarro, I would encourage you to start this process again.”
Under city law, Lavarro will have to wait six months before re-introducing his ordinance. Should he choose to re-introduce the measure next spring, his ordinance would be introduced during the 2013 political season and upcoming municipal elections.
Alternately, Lavarro, who is running with City Councilman and 2013 mayoral candidate Steven Fulop, could wait until after the election when the make up of the council might shift.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.