New Jersey Municipal Police Discipline

In In the Matter of Thomas F. Fricano, Borough of Freehold, Docket No.: A-2280-07T3, the Appellate Division addressed Appellant Thomas Fricano’s appeal from final decisions of the Merit System Board (“Board”), dated September 27, 2007 and December 7, 2007, upholding his resignation in good standing from the Borough of Freehold Police Department.

By way of background, Fricano received a regular appointment as a police officer in Freehold on April 3, 2006. The appointment was subject to the successful completion of a one-year probationary working test period, commencing after completion of a police training course. On February 2, 2007, Fricano, in a written letter, resigned to pursue other opportunities in law enforcement. The appointing authority accepted the resignation, which was made effective February 22, 2007. 

The circumstances surrounding Fricano’s resignation are in dispute and at the core of the appeal. According to Fricano, on February 2, 2007, after having served ten months of his one-year probationary working term, he was summoned to the office of the Police Chief. Allegedly, the Chief ordered Fricano “to resign or be terminated immediately.” Denied his request for legal representation or to have a PBA representative present, Fricano drafted and submitted a letter of resignation under duress and coercion. Thereafter, on February 16, 2007, Fricano’s counsel wrote to the Chief requesting that he be able to rescind the resignation. The Borough attorney advised Fricano that he would not be reinstated, instead stating that “they could have fired him instead.” Subsequently, on March 13, 2007, Fricano was issued a preliminary notice of disciplinary action, charging him with numerous violations. On March 22, 2007, the appointing authority withdrew the charges and, thereafter, on March 28, 2007, issued Fricano a letter indicating that he did not satisfactorily complete his working test period and that he was being terminated effective April 3, 2007.

The Borough offers a different version. When called to his office, the Chief advised Fricano that his performance during the working test period had not been satisfactory, and, therefore, offered him the option to resign effective February 22 or face termination for failure to satisfactorily complete his working test period. This offer was made so that Fricano could avoid any stigma which might attach to an involuntary termination. Fricano decided to resign and submitted a resignation letter the same day. In the letter, Fricano explain that he resigned to pursue “a different choice in the Law Enforcement Career.” Although he did not work after February 2, he was paid through February 22, and his resignation was recorded effective February 22, 2007. After being subsequently informed of Fricano’s intention to challenge his resignation, the police department issued the preliminary notice of disciplinary action on March 13, 2007. On March 22, 2007, the police department withdrew the charges and, instead, as a cautionary measure, issued a letter to


Continue Reading Officer’s Resignation Not Attributed to Duress, Upheld

In the matter of O’Rourke v. City of Lambertville, Docket No. A-0481-07T3, the Defendants appeal the trial court’s decision: (1) reversing the Lambertville City Council’s decision removing Plaintiff, Michael O’Rourke, from his position as a police officer; (2) reinstating Plaintiff to his position; and (3) denying their motion for reconsideration. Defendant, Bruce Cocuzza, is the city’s civilian police director. Plaintiff, a sergeant first class, was the police department’s Terminal Agency Coordinator (“TAC”) for the National Crime Information Center (“NCIC”) system, which contains a wide array of law enforcement information. 

The city charged Plaintiff with conducting unauthorized and improper employee background investigations, in defiance of Cocuzza’s direct order, and engaging in conduct subversive to the good order and discipline of the department in doing so. At the disciplinary hearing, Cocuzza testified that he and Plaintiff were discussing the temporary transfer of an employee from city hall to the department when Plaintiff told him that the employee would have to submit to a background check or be fingerprinted for security purposes. Cocuzza said he told Plaintiff that no action should be taken until Cocuzza received written authorization from “somebody in authority” and spoke with the city attorney regarding same. Later, Cocuzza learned Plaintiff had performed background investigations of five civilian employees of the department, including Cocuzza, without authorization.

After the officer assigned who was assigned to the department’s internal affairs unit declined to investigate because of his long-term social relationship with Plaintiff, Cocuzza decided to conduct the investigation himself. In his report, Cocuzza wrote that Plaintiff had been insubordinate and that his actions constituted a serious breach of discipline and a flagrant abuse of authority. 

Plaintiff testified that he performed the checks under his authority as TAC officer, indicating that under the State’s security policy anyone with access to the NCIC system had to have a background check and fingerprints taken. He also stated that he understood Cocuzza to mean that he should not ask anyone for their fingerprints, which he did not do. He did concede that he did criminal checks on five employees, including Cocuzza.


Continue Reading ATTORNEY GENERAL’S GUIDELINES MUST BE FOLLOWED IN INTERNAL AFFAIRS INVESTIGATION

In the case entitled, In the Matter of Herrick, etc. 33-2-1258, The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division opined that a police officer serving in the elevated civil service title of captain in order to fill a vacancy created by a temporary leave of absence due to a military obligation has no claim to

In the case entitled, In The Matter of Poplawski, 33-2-0649, the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division rendered a decision that upheld the New Jersey Department of Personnel, Merit System Board’s decision that the removal of the Appellant’s name from a promotional list was proper due to his past disciplinary history.  Poplawski appealed his employer’s action

          Achieving the desired level of discipline within a law enforcement unit is among the most important responsibilities of the law enforcement executive, and the governing body. Yet this is one of the most frequently neglected processes within many law enforcement agencies. This will be first of a series of Blog posts that concentrate on the

In the world of Public Employee Discipline as it pertains to New Jersey municipal police officers, we often turn to N.J.S.A. 40A:14-147, or more commonly referred to as the “45 day rule", in ensuring that municipalities act within a reasonable time frame in bringing disciplinary charges against public safety officers. The New Jersey Attorney General’s Guidelines