2008-07-17 / Front Page

Study recommends towns share police services

Consultants: Law enforcement can be regionalized
BY JENNA O'DONNELL Staff Writer

A feasibility study of shared police services among Rumson, Fair Haven and Little Silver suggests that the three towns pool resources in six areas, including criminal investigation and communications.

The findings of the Two River Regional Police Study Group by Eatontown-based Patriot Consulting Group were presented to officials and residents of the three boroughs during a meeting held at Little Silver Borough Hall on July 9. Officials predicted it would be the first of many meetings.

Brian J. Valentino, president and principal consultant of Patriot, said during the meeting that his firm's investigation was guided by the decision of the study group to follow two principles.

"Any recommendations must maintain or preferably improve law enforcement service delivery and must result in a projected cost savings," he said. "If either or both of these recommendations are not met, our recommendations must be rejected."

Valentino said that while his firm did not currently recommend full regionalization, it does advise that the towns officially begin sharing in six areas: purchasing, communications and information technology, prisoner processing and holding, criminal investigation, traffic functions and youth aid services.

There are 46 police officers among the three towns serving 19,244 year-round residents in a land area of 9.6 miles, according to Valentino.

"If you add up all the personnel costs, not just salaries, but benefits, overtime, uniforms, pension, the three towns spend about $685 million per year in police and dispatch personnel," Valentino said, adding that for every dollar spent on base salaries, the three towns spent an additional 63 cents on overtime and fringe benefits.

He added that the three towns are very similar.

"The demographics and the identity are almost identical," Valentino said. "They have similar police departments, the municipal philosophy is the same, and they receive almost identical types of calls."

However, discrepancies in the methods in which towns collect call data, or calls for police services, presents difficulties in comparing the demands for services, according to Valentino. The data for the three towns is inconsistent because the police departments do not use the same systems.

"This makes it almost impossible for us to tell you the true demand of services in your town," he said.

The three municipalities are receiving outstanding, but in many cases duplicate services, according to Valentino, who added that many services are already being shared in some informal manner between two or more of the towns.

Based on the study, the consultants came up with four recommendations.

The first recommendation is that traditional shared services agreements should be executed in the six recommended areas.

The second recommendation states that a Joint Management Committee should be established to oversee sharing and regionalization efforts.

Thirdly, the consultants recommend a uniform collection of call data tracking law enforcement officers to be implemented as soon as possible.

The final recommendation is to consider the feasibility of the full regionalization of all law enforcement services upon the collection of significant data with a uniform means of collection.

"We are not recommending the full regionalization of police departments tonight," Valentino said. "That may be feasible in the future after the sharing plan that we have discussed has been in operation long enough to assess the effectiveness of sharing on a limited scale, assess the viability of sharing, and collect sufficient call data to determine how officers are deployed and where they're needed."

While sharing these services, Valentino said that the officers would work at one agency as a team, with cross-jurisdictional assignments. The three current chiefs would continue to command their own officers and departments while patrols would remain in existing departments.

"Once the towns have had a chance to share these services and assess their long term viability, they may decide to regionalize their entire police functions into one new department," said Dennis E. Godek, Patriot's vice president in charge of public safety services.

District 12 Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon, who organized the three-town shared services committee that is now called the Two River Regional Police Study Group, asked residents to have an open mind.

"We chose to look at Rumson, Fair Haven and Little Silver because it's a natural," he said. Geographically we're very consistent and demographically we're very consistent. It's a self-contained area."

O'Scanlon addressed some misinformation about the study, outlining the two primary concerns of diminished service and possible layoffs.

"From our first conversation, the one thing to focus on was maintaining the level of police and emergency response at or better than where it is when we started … and that has continued to be the theme of this group right from the start," he said.

"Secondarily, we discussed layoffs. When a police officer makes a commitment to a municipality, it's a career-long commitment. There's not a person on this committee who disagrees with that."

The goal, according to O'Scanlon is to see the best services delivered to citizens at the most efficient rate and the lowest cost.

Valentino said that the police chiefs had already informed Patriot Consultants that they couldn't support the sharing of detectives, traffic or youth aid functions.

"Our position is that all the recommendations that we're making meet the directions of the study group, they maintain services, they potentially reduce costs," he said.

Fair Haven Police Chief Darryl Breckenridge stated during the public comment that the three chiefs disagreed with the sharing of the three services.

"We think that we would lose manpower, we couldn't maintain our staff, which really makes no sense at all, and we are strongly against that and we will be till the end," he said.

A number of residents from the three boroughs commented during the public portion of the meeting, with the majority being Rumson residents strongly opposed to such an agreement.

Lori Pomphrey, a Rumson resident and a teacher in the Rumson School district, spoke in response to Breckenridge's statement about sharing youth aid services.

"We have many police officers present in our Rumson school systems," she said. "Our Rumson youth know who these police officers are. They are not the men that are going to be patrolling the streets, there is not going to be a connection with those police officers, and I feel that that is not the level of service we currently have right now in Rumson."

Residents wanted to know what the savings and cost benefits were for sharing police and emergency services, some expressing skepticism that the savings would be worth the consolidation.

Valentino replied that any number he could give in savings for non-personnel costs would be a guess, since no personnel were being cut. Additionally, he was under legal obligation to withhold numbers dealing with personnel.

"Well if you can't tell us savings why the hell should we do it?" one Rumson resident asked.

Greg Sacco of Rumson wanted to know what the process would be going forward.

"This has to be a referendum; if you push this through the way other things have been pushed through in Rumson… there's going to be hell to pay," he said to Rumson Mayor John Ekdahl, who is a member of the Two River Regional Police Study Group.

"I implore you for your own selfpreservation, have a referendum even if you don't have to."

O'Scanlon said that the study was the most conservative way to look at sharing services.

"There is absolutely nothing that anyone's contemplating that can't be undone, or that could not be monitored as it goes [to ensure safety]," O'Scanlon said. "We're contemplating a lot of baby steps."

Regarding a referendum, O'Scanlon said that it was unnecessary when the governing bodies of the three towns were merely doing their jobs, which is looking for the best way to deliver services at the most efficient level.

"So there is nothing radical happening here," he said. "We are not calling for the merger of these police departments."

Fair Haven Mayor Michael Halfacre said that he anticipated the Wednesday meeting to be the first of many, and its purpose was not to vote or take action but to allow the councils to get feedback to discuss.

"We are presenting a preliminary picture of where we are," he said. "I would envision a lot of meetings."

Fair Haven Councilman Jon Peters said that with the state's budgetary crisis, towns would have to face eventual change.

"Not changing now may present future problems for you," he said.

The Two River Police Study is the largest of its kind in New Jersey history, according to a release from Patriot.

The group was founded by the elected officials of the three towns, along with the boroughs of Oceanport and Shrewsbury, in 2007 for the purpose of assessing the feasibility of sharing and possibly regionalizing their five municipal police departments into on regional department, the release states.

This portion of the study was funded by a New Jersey SHARE (Sharing Available Resources Efficiently) Grant in the amount of $25,000, which Patriot wrote and was awarded.

Initially, there was a phase 2 portion of the study, which envisioned the inclusion of Oceanport and Shrewsbury in the shared services study, according to Valentino, but officials had opted to limit the study to the three towns in 2006.

O'Scanlon, a Little Silver councilman at the time, said then that the study would proceed with only Little Silver, Fair Haven and Rumson, but that Oceanport and Shrewsbury might join at a later date.

However, at last week's meeting, O'Scanlon told residents that Shrewsbury had opted out of the ongoing study and that he didn't think there was a possibility of including Oceanport.

"We're taking baby steps and figuring out what works and what doesn't," O'Scanlon said.

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