Police may change hiring procedures

Ordinance would shift emphasis to hiring grads of police academy


Edison might be changing its protocols for hiring new police officers, scrapping the current practice of testing and training new hires in favor of selecting candidates who come already equipped with certification from an accredited New Jersey police academy.

The measure will need to be approved by the Township Council, which voted to introduce the ordinance during its Sept. 10 meeting.

Under the current arrangement, potential new recruits are issued a basic written test to assess their knowledge of police procedure and abilities, administered by an outside agency. After that, new hires are sent to a police academy, at the department’s expense, in order to be trained. The process takes about six months, during which the recruit still draws salary and benefits from the department while he or she is training.

Should the township adopt the ordinance, the testing and training portions of the hiring process will be eliminated in favor of hiring precertified, or alternate route, candidates who have already graduated from a New Jersey police academy. From there, potential new hires would be vetted before an interview board and subjected to background checks.

The new process puts most of the training costs on the new hire rather than the department, which Police Director Brian Collier says will save the Edison Police Department a great deal of money.

“The academy costs somewhere around $3,000 to $5,000, and the salary of that officer during that six months we will not have them on the road is about $30,000,” said Collier. “If I hire [an alternate route candidate], I’m actually saving that $5,000 academy fee and that $30,000 in salary in benefits, and I’ll be getting a police officer almost immediately after some in-house training.”


eputy Chief Thomas Bryan said

the department isn’t abandoning the testing procedure entirely, noting that there is still a basic test. Still, the bulk of the training and testing will be done before the candidate even walks through the door, which he said saves the taxpayers money.

“[This] saves our taxpayers a lot of money because we don’t have to hire someone to give a test. … This testing procedure can become very cumbersome,” Collier said during the Sept. 10 meeting.

Collier also said that since the alternate route candidates are currently or have already gone through the police academy, the new hires will also be of higher quality because they will have already gone through a rigorous training process before even being interviewed for the job.

“We have a tremendous pool of people who have taken not one test, they’ve taken 10 tests at the police academy, which they have successfully graduated,” Collier said before rattling off a list of things academy graduates need to know, including search and seizure, law, traffic, and physical standards training.

Collier conceded that a test can be a good idea if one needs to gather a pool of qualified applicants, but he said that the township already has a large pool of eligible people waiting to join the force. According to the police director, over 100 people with existing certification from a New Jersey police academy are looking to join the Edison Police Department, about 30 a month over the past three or four months.

“The fact is, we have about 100 applicants who have vetted themselves and who will not cost $35,000 each to train [and] who are willing to jump on board in Edison if they fulfill our screening and interview process,” said Collier.

Not everyone is supportive of the potential change in the department’s hiring practices, however. Mike Schwarz, president of the Edison Policemen’s Benevolent Association, the union representing the township’s police officers, expressed concerns that emphasizing alternate route candidates would lead to fewer local candidates being considered for hire as academy graduates from all over the state would begin filling the ranks. This, he said, would be unfortunate, because local cops are more invested in the community they live in. He also said that the transition period is a lot shorter for a new hire who was raised in the town than for someone who lives outside it.

“I was born in Edison. I was raised in Edison … I know the community, so I think it’s important to have a connection to the community. It puts you above and beyond the paycheck mentality and into a true interest in the community. … When you got guys coming here from somewhere else, there’s less of a true concern or interest in the community. It’s more of a job,” said Schwarz.

While the Edison PBA has organized massive efforts in the past when it was opposed to certain issues, Schwarz said the union probably will not publicly fight this measure, because, he said, there’s little point, since the ordinance will probably pass the council anyway.

“We oppose it, but we don’t feel it’s even worth it to oppose publicly, because the council will give him whatever he wants,” said Schwarz, referring to the slim 4-3 majority the supporters of Edison Mayor Jun Choi, who supports the change, currently enjoy on the council.

Jim Ryan, a spokesperson with the state PBA, said that his organization held similar sentiments, expressing concern that the changes could let politics creep into police hiring.

“We share some of their concerns. If there’s such wide discretion, that allows it to be arbitrary. It could politicize the process,” said Ryan.

According to Wayne Fisher, director of the Police Institute at the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice, emphasizing alternate route candidates for hire is a trend among police departments that are increasingly looking at expenses. He reiterated the police director’s points in that departments won’t have to spend nearly as much money on an alternate route hire, noting the costs of both sending someone to a police academy as well as administering tests, which, he pointed out, are given to a large number of people, most of whom won’t even pass.

“There are apparently, when looking at it, more advantages than disadvantages … the track record of alternate route [hires] in New Jersey is very, very good,” said Fisher.

Some people still weren’t so sure, however. During the Sept. 10 meeting, Councilman Anthony Massaro expressed his reservations over what impact scrapping the bulk of the in-house testing could have on the township.

“I’m not in opposition on doing something better; hiring police officers that are already out of the academy, that makes sense. … I’m somewhat concerned that we are throwing out the baby with the bath water by throwing out the testing procedure,” said Massaro, who suggested perhaps using a hybrid form instead, something that uses a little bit of both procedures.

Council President Robert Diehl echoed Massaro’s sentiments, saying that while not completely against the ordinance, he wants to take a good, hard look at it before he throws his support behind it.

The ordinance will have a public hearing during the Sept. 24 council meeting at 7 p.m.

Chris Gaetano can be reached at sentnorth@ gmnews.com.