As reported by app.com, the Freehold Township Police Department has new sign at its front window: “Due to staffing issues, this window may be closed throughout the day. If this is an emergency, use the red telephone.” It’s literally a sign of the times, as police departments throughout New Jersey continue to cope with the ongoing consequences of a deep recession and budget cuts.
The problem is that officers who retire are not being replaced, often because municipalities do not have the money to hire more police. So, for police chiefs or department directors, the challenge is maintaining adequate levels of protection. But, the financial belt-tightening has visibly translated into divisions being merged, administrative bureaus being closed and officers being reassigned from desk jobs back to patrolling the streets. In some instances, specialized police units are being depleted in order to ensure that enough officers are on the streets and available to respond to emergencies.
What is clear is that the ranks of New Jersey police are growing thinner. The State overall has seen a loss of 3,400 officers since January 1, 2010, according to State Policemen’s Benevolent Association representative James Ryan. Much of that is due to attrition, he said. Officers who qualify for retirement choose to leave, rather than deal with the ongoing conflict in Trenton over pensions and benefits for public employees.
Depending on the size of a particular municipality, the impact of the retirements can translate into a sizable chunk of the police force going away. In Freehold Township, for instance, seven officers have retired during the past 14 months. That amounts to 10 percent of the force and none of them will be replaced according to Administrator Peter Valessi. The numbers vary around the state, but they all tell a similar story.
In Woodbridge, 24 officers, or nearly 10 percent of the force, retired in 2010. In Red Bank, three officers retired and three special officers who serve one year terms were not rehired, decreasing uniformed police in that department by 13 percent. In Freehold township, departmental changes have increased the responsibilities of patrol officers, who now respond to motor vehicle accidents, answer all types of calls, and run radar stops on roads, said local PBA president William Gallo.
“Everyone has to do a little more now,” Gallo said, “whether that’s answering more calls, taking care of accidents or radar. We are making do.” Ryan, the state PBA representative, said that trend is becoming more widespread, as officers in special operations, including the anti-drug DARE programs, school resource officers and detective divisions, are moved to patrol duty. “We are worried, and I’m not trying to be a fearmongerer here, about a rise in crime” he said.