For now at least, the seven-town Camden County Colonial Alliance will proceed without Haddon Heights in exploring the efficiencies of shared police leadership and administration.
According to Haddon Heights Councilman Richard DiRenzo, the request for proposal (RFP) didn't make the cut for the August 6 meeting of the local governing body.
"After some discussion with the mayor [Ed Forte] and the public safety director [Jack Merryfield] and the public safety committee, we’re going in a different direction," DiRenzo told Patch on Wednesday.
DiRenzo, who in July had questioned the logic that would tie policing in Haddon Heights to towns farther west along the White Horse Pike, may have meant "different direction" in the literal sense.
"We just feel as though the way to go is [with] the towns we work with every single day: Bellmawr, Runnemede, Barrington," he said.
"The mayor wants us to get moving on it, and we feel we can be better off in that direction than the other way."
In discussions with Forte and Merryfield, DiRenzo said that Haddon Heights leaders felt the borough could make better use of some administrative measures it already has in place with those towns instead of sharing a police chief with other Colonial Alliance members.
He cited a joint e-ticketing program Haddon Heights shares with Gloucester Township and streamlined police reporting systems that run on Bellmawr-hosted servers.
"We already share personnel, technically," DiRenzo said. "Our guys and Barrington and Haddonfield and Audubon; if something goes down in one of those towns, guys are there.
"We do have mutual aid agreements that were already in place."
In July, the councilman, who is a retired, 26-year veteran of the now-disbanded Camden City Police Department, told Patch he believes that any shared policing program should leverage equipment and training efficiencies instead of eliminating personnel.
As per terms of the RFP, bids are due by next Friday, and should include a comprehensive plan that covers the seven member communities mentioned within the document.
DiRenzo said that he was "curious to see what happens with these other towns; that RFP, if they stay with it."
He said that he'd talked to Haddonfield Mayor Jeffrey Kasko about his concerns with the proposal, and that representatives from the Association of Camden County Police Chiefs had approached Oaklyn Mayor Robert Forbes and Haddon Township Mayor Randy Teague.
"I was very proud of our mayor for being able to allow us to go and do something different," DiRenzo said of Forte.
"It showed that we believe in our chiefs, we believe in what they can do for us, and [that they can] maybe come up with some cost savings."
'You don't do this overnight'
Acknowledging that elected officials must tread lightly in any discussion of changing public safety services requires, Haddon Heights Mayor Edward Forte also pointed out that "as a small town, I can see that you don't do this overnight."
Part of the issue, Forte said, is that "some things got put in the RFP and some things were left out of the RFP that should have been put out there to expand it.
"It got put in for police chiefs," he said. "The intent wasn't for that, it was for administration, police chiefs, captains, detectives. It was more involved.
"Some people took it as the county was going to come into these towns and take it over," he said.
"I'm totally against the county police department. I don't want them in my town. I want to save some money for the taxpayers."
The results of a feasibility study, if adopted, "could take 10 years, with attrition," to implement, Forte said, because local leaders have no interest in high-profile layoffs.
But he also acknowledged that the timing of the RFP coincides with the imminent retirement of a handful of current Colonial Alliance police chiefs, and the fact that a handful more are operating currently without a contract.
In fact, he said, when Barrington accepted a Sept. 1, 2013 retirement date from Chief Joseph Eisenhardt in May, representatives from Haddon Heights and Barrington had some unofficial talks about sharing the responsibilities of the position across their borders.
"We sat down and had a cup of coffee," Forte said. "At the end of the day [Barrington] decided they didn't want to follow through with it, but they still had that conversation," he said. "You need to have that conversation."
Forte also said that stepping away from the feasibility study also doesn't mean that Haddon Heights—or any town—necessarily excludes itself from what could be a lengthy process.
"It's the other six towns left on the RFP, and if they decide to do this, it's only going to be two towns to start, maybe," Forte guessed. "At any point, if we wanted to jump in, we could."