Weehawken police officers have voted overwhelmingly to approve a new contract with the township, said Police Benevolent Association (PBA) President Henry Zeeb. Mayor Richard Turner confirmed that the township had accepted the terms as well, and both parties expressed satisfaction with the outcome of negotiations which took place over the past month.
“Our officers voted in favor of it by a large margin,” said Zeeb.
Mayor Turner said that the negotiations went smoother than he would have thought, given that the township’s 2 percent increase cap on its budget would make it difficult to give officers a substantial raise.
“The union came in with a very reasonable request,” said Turner this week. “We’re in a tough situation with the budget cap, so it set a bit of a different tone, but money never really became an issue.”
“Low crime means we’re doing our jobs. Hopefully this schedule will allow us to continue that.” – Weehawken PBA President Henry Zeeb
The current agreement between the PBA and the township is set to expire this month, paving the way for the new contract, which outlines a new, steady shift system in addition to the officers’ salary increase.
“From a union standpoint, we’re always looking for a raise, but we understand times are tough and we were mainly going for the shift changes, which the town agreed to,” said Zeeb.
New shift schedule
The new shift system – which will require officers to work four days on and four days off on a consistent basis – was agreed upon after the PBA convinced the township that it would be mutually beneficial for both officers and Weehawken residents.
Under the new system, the same officers will work the same assignment details week in and week out during one of three 10-hour shifts: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., or 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Township officials said the new system will be easier on police officers, and advantageous to town residents.
“I worked rotating shifts as a police officer for many years, and it can be really difficult,” said the township’s director of public safety, Jeff Welz. “It can be hard on an officer’s family and on his health, not to mention it can be confusing.”
Under the new system, an officer will receive a permanent assignment and shift, allowing for continuity in a profession that more often than not changes on a week-by-week basis.
Furthermore, the township will benefit from having double the manpower during the department’s busiest hours, as shifts will overlap during the hours of 4 p.m. to 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.
“In the late afternoon and early evening, the town can get crazy, because everyone’s going home through the tunnel during rush hour,” said Turner.
In an interview last week, he referred to the later overlap as “the witching hour” and said that it was during those hours that the police department deals with most “mischief-type crimes.”
Zeeb echoed Turner’s sentiments, adding that with double manpower, both police and residents will be safer.
“From a union standpoint, we’ve got more safety in numbers,” he said. “And more cops on the street means we’ve got more officers looking for crime.”
In general, however, Weehawken’s crime levels have held steady in recent years. Although specific statistics were not readily available, Turner estimated that crime in Weehawken was lower than in the 1970s, when municipalities first began recording crime rates.
“Low crime means we’re doing our jobs,” said Zeeb. “Hopefully this schedule will allow us to continue that.”
Welz said around 350 crimes were committed in Weehawken in 2012, as opposed to around 1,200 when statistics were first recorded.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org