Reilly said the police department is undergoing changes promised several years ago with the appointment of Chief Dennis Corcoran."Since the new mayor has taken over, we have begun to implement many of the changes the chief wanted to do when he first took over in 1997," Reilly said. "Because of changes made, police officers are better prepared and more accountable for what they do during their eight-hour shifts."
Last month, the council approved the hiring of Thomas Keegan, a local resident, as a police officer. Keegan joins four new officers hired earlier this year under the federal COPS-FAST grant, and helps boost the department's ranks depleted by the promotion of sergeants in January.
In May, the Town Council approved the re-establishing of the rank of captain and appointed three officers to fill those positions.
"This was part of the chief's reorganizational plans," Reilly said. "Each captain will be in charge of a separate division."
After nearly six years without one, the Secaucus Police Department swore in three captains in May as part of an attempt to finally establish a chain of command, one that will provide adequate leadership on each level, Reilly said. He noted that early retirements, resignations and other changes had largely upset the balance of ranking officers in the department. They also had reduced the overall number of police officers.
When Dennis Corcoran was sworn in as police chief in 1997, he began to recreate an internal chain of command, restoring key positions. In 1991, the force had over 70 officers. Two years ago, that number was at 48. Corcoran and the council have managed since to bring the force back up to 56 this year. Although the town hired four officers earlier this year, and several in late 1999, three more officers announced their retirements this year.
Reilly also reported that four new police cars arrived this week, beginning the arduous task of updating the fleet. Earlier this year, the council to purchase police cars, doing away with leasing policy the council set up last year when tight budgeting considerations made it difficult to put out cash for cars.
Over the last decade, Town Hall curtailed the purchase of new vehicles as a means of helping balance the municipal budget. Tax appeals and the aftermath of the 1992 recession left officials with hard choices and required cuts in every department. This, according to Mayor Dennis Elwell, put much more mileage on the cars and left little or no down time to do ordinary maintenance. The new concept is to purchase more cars, leaving some unused during certain shifts, allowing vehicles to acquire mileage more slowly and provide time for consistent maintenance.
The money for the new cars comes from the same federal grant used to hire the new police officers, Reilly said.
The federal money became a political battleground last year, when then-Mayor Anthony Just disputed some of the claims made by grant writers on behalf of the town in the application. After a flurry of correspondence between Just and COPS officials, the money was granted.
Along with changes in officers and police vehicles, the police department has also upgraded its headquarters, meeting with state and federal guidelines. The massive rebuilding of the town's headquarters came following recommendations of state and federal authorities that highlighted several safety issues. The records room - which had previously been in the back of the station - was relocated to the front where the public could have access to it without having to use hallways in which prisoners are being escorted. Reilly said the full range of changes would be highlighted early next month when the department holds an open house to the public.
Mayor Dennis Elwell said the police department is also reviewing possible police and other emergency service increases for when the Secaucus Transfer Station opens.
"I know when the project was first proposed and we still had 70 officers, we were told that we might need as many as 15 additional officers," Elwell said. "We don't know what we will need yet as far as fire and ambulance service."