PBA calls for increased manpower

BY CHRIS GAETANO Staff Writer

EDISON — The Edison Policemen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) has called on the administration to hire more patrol officers in a statement released in response to the transfer of a patrolwoman to a federal task force.

While PBA President Mike Schwarz said he believes the move to a Drug Enforcement Administration task force in Newark is a good opportunity for the officer and wished her well, he said the transfer underscores what he believes are already existing staffing problems in the department’s patrol division.

“I think its a great move for her. It’s a great experience, a great résumé builder, but the timing is not right. It’s nothing to do with her, we respect her, but the manpower is so low it’s unreasonable. People are being denied vacation, and cutting manpower down to minimum. There is minimum patrolling the roads. It’s ridiculous,” said Schwarz.

The PBA president declined to give the name of the transferring officer, because he expects that she will be doing undercover work at her new position.

In a statement released Dec. 12, the PBA critiques the administration for what it views as a top-heavy hiring process, saying that the department has emphasized expanding the command staff, such as captains and sergeants, at the expense of patrol officers on the ground. He said that since 2005 the number of police officers in the department has gone down from 211 to 191, for a township of roughly 100,000 people. Officer Keith Hahn, the PBA’s state delegate and vice president of the local, said that Edison’s crime rate has gone down but that this was no reason to cut back on police.

“We’re in tough economic times. In tough economic times, there’s always an increase in burglaries and other property crimes. Tough economic times are not a time for Edison officials to raise people’s taxes without ensuring their public safety,” said Hahn.

At the same time, Hahn said that the number of captains has doubled, and a civilian director and deputy chief have been appointed.

“There have been 22 or 23 promotions, plus new retirements and other departures. It has meant fewer officers on the road,” said Hahn. “We’re feeling the pinch.”

Police Director Brian Collier, however, noted that the police department isn’t losing an officer. The policewoman will still be with the Edison Police Department, he said, and with the training and resources she will be getting on the task force, she will be able to add much to the force.

“You now have an officer with a task force, and that officer can bring those law enforce- ment resources to bear in Edison. That’s the goal with this officer. … She remains a member of the department but can then bring other resources to bear on the department,” Collier

said in a phone interview.

One resource is money. The director said that as part of this task force, the value of seized criminal assets such as cars or cash are shared back with the police department, and so the officer’s participation with the program can actually provide the department with a revenue stream. Collier noted that the EPD has made use of such funds to improve the department, such the purchase of new equipment, which saves the taxpayers money.

Collier said he found it unusual that a union official, Hahn, would critique an officer’s move to a task force when that same union official is on a county task force that is quite similar in function to the one that the policewoman is about to join.

“This says a lot about the agenda here of the union: a task force officer, union official, is criticizing the assignment of a … policewoman

to a task force,” said Collier.

The director said, though, that he is happy the PBA is now focusing on manpower issues. Collier stated that in previous administrations, the PBA was allowed to use two full-time officers to fundraise while on duty, for three to four months a year. He surmised that the press release, issued by a professional public relations firm, was probably paid for with money raised while officers were on duty.

The PBA also said the transfer leaves the department with one less female officer at a time when the department is actively attempting to expand its diversity. In an interview, Schwarz said there are five women in the Edison Police Department, and of those five, two are in patrol. When the one taking the transfer leaves for her new job, there will be only one. Schwarz said that maintaining women in the police force is very important because they conduct searches of female suspects. Collier said he’d prefer not to talk about staffing issues, but noted that the EPD is headed into the future.

“I don’t like to get into manpower, but I can tell you this department is preparing for the future and we’re going to be very well equipped, and I hope I have the union’s support to move

forward,” said Collier.

The PBA’s critique comes amidst the township’s budget deliberation process, when Edison officials are deliberating on how a $118 million spending plan will be distributed. During the public comment portion on Dec. 3, inquiry from resident Bill Stephens revealed that the police department has been given money to hire five new officers and had already hired two this year. Schwarz said the five positions represent three new hires and two refills of vacant positions.

Contact Chris Gaetano at

sentnorth@gmnews.com.