Camden County's plan to create a countywide police force was dealt a serious blow this week when the group representing local police chiefs washed its hands of the proposal.
The Camden County Police Chiefs' Association announced it would no longer take part in an a committee created to explore a countywide force.
“This action shows that they are more interested in protecting their own interests than the taxpayers’ interests,” said county Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. “Taxpayers are asking for better public safety that is more cost-effective.
“The police chiefs don’t want to be part of the process of protecting the greater public safety interests of their neighbors and, in that way, they are pitting their interests against the taxpayers in their communities,” Cappelli said in a statement. “That is unfortunate, but it’s their right and their choice to walk away.”
Berlin Borough Police Chief Robert L. Carrara, president of the Camden County Police Chiefs' Association, was out of his office Thursday and could not be reached for comment.
But in a letter to the editor sent to Patch this week, Carrara said county officials are trying to rush the plan through without any real input from local police chiefs.(To view a copy of the letter, click on the PDF above.)
Carrara contends the exploratory committee has met five times for a total of only five hours over the past several months, "not nearly enough time to compile the necessary statistics and information, not to mention the groundwork required to form a police department of this size. Keep in mind that a countywide police department in Camden County would be serving a population equal to the city of Tucson in an area the size of Chicago."
Last week the county released a that attempted to explain how a countywide force might work.
"This document outlines purported potential savings as well as hiring formulas that the county apparently intends to use," Carrara wrote. "Not once were these discussed in any of the five hours that the committee met. Where did these figures come from? We are left with the conclusion that there must by two 'committees.' One committee comprised of elected mayors, politically appointed municipal administrators, politically appointed chief financial officers, the elected sheriff, appointed county prosecutor and one police chief—which did not discuss any of the items mentioned the white paper. Apparently, there is another committee meeting behind closed doors."
In a release, county officials said, "the status quo in current public safety costs is unsustainable for municipalities, given the 2 percent tax cap" imposed on municipalities by Gov. Christopher J. Christie.
Christie, a Republican, has strongly encouraged New Jersey towns to share more services to save taxpayers money.
“Joining a countywide police department would be an option available to municipalities and would be totally voluntary,” said Cappelli, director of the all-Democrat freeholder board. “It would be up to the municipalities to decide what is in their best interests and those of their taxpayers.”