As reported on NJ.COM yesterday, Governor Christie stated publicly that Mercer County should consider creating a regional police force to handle soaring violence in Trenton, a city whose police department is overwhelmed by current conditions. This morning, NJ.Com has reported the initial reactions from many politicians in the Mercer County area.
Tony Mack, the Mayor of Trenton, who has been indicted by a Federal Grand Jury for corruption based charges, noted that although the Camden County force was first proposed in 2011, new officers are only just hitting the streets in the city of Camden. “We have a very real issue with telling our residents to wait two years for basic quality of life that other communities enjoy all day every day,” Mack said in an e-mail. “Trentonians need relief now.”
Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes said he would be willing to talk about any solution that would quell the violence in Trenton. “I would love to sit down with the governor and all the mayors of Mercer County to see if we can find talking points, because we are willing to do anything to bring down the violence in the city of Trenton,” Hughes said. He added that the county has provided funding via the prosecutor’s office and the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office to support Trenton police in its campaign against gun violence.
Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing) said she would need to see more concrete results in Camden before she would support a county police force. “I don’t think there is empirical research that says this will work better,” Watson Coleman said. “Christie doesn’t have any evidence that it works, and since he doesn’t give the capital city the attention it needs, he is in no place to shoot from the hip.”
Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini said Christie’s recommendation is “worth exploring.” “Without completely studying it and coming up with a plan I couldn’t say if it would work,” he said.
Assemblyman Reed Guscioria (D-Trenton) said he is intrigued by the idea but noted that a countywide force would be opposed by police unions and officers seeking to protect their fiefdoms and pay grades.
George Dzurkoc, the president of Trenton’s Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 11, took umbrage at Christie’s comments. “He’s questioning our ability to police our city, and the only reason we’re having that difficulty is because he cut the funding,” Dzurkoc said. Police and city officials have repeatedly said the cut in Capital City Aid in 2010 by Christie’s administration was the main driver of mass layoffs a year later that took one-third of the department and still have the force down 140 positions. “The only people who are handcuffed in the city are the cops,” Dzurkoc said.
Hughes said he did discuss the implementation of a county force in 2011, when Camden’s was being considered, but former Mayor John Bencivengo said Hamilton would not join a countywide police force. “When you had your largest municipality, out of the box, saying they wouldn’t participate, it is difficult to move forward from there,” Hughes said. He said Mercer County is a partisan county, making it more difficult for all municipalities to agree. Christie should spearhead such an initiative, Hughes said. “If he could lend his political heft to providing some leadership, that might help,” he said.
State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Lawrence) said all municipalities in the county should have an interest in stopping violence in Trenton. “Trenton is not an island, our borders are very porous,” Turner said. “What happens in Trenton can very easily spill over into other areas. We’re only as strong as our weakest link.”
We will continue to provide information on this issue as the same becomes available. We will also attempt to obtain information regarding the Camden County Police Force and how the implementation of the same has affected officers on a county wide basis.