Although city officials have touted a decline in shootings and other violent crime for the first part of 2019, a sharp increase since mid-June has many in the community concerned.
Religious leaders, civic leaders, and residents in the southern portion of Jersey City expressed fear of increased violence at a community hearing last week, talking about the sudden increase in shootings, a road-rage beating, as well as the murder of two people in a four-day period in mid-July.
One of the most serious concerns was the July 1 incident when police shot two men who were apparently setting off fireworks, an incident currently under investigation by the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office.
Some high-ranking police officials believe that the uptick in violence could be attributed to a reduced police presence in parts of the city prone to violence. This, despite the fact that the city has increased the number of officers in the department to historic highs and with two classes of candidates already at academies.
Public Safety Director James Shea told the city council at a caucus meeting on July 15 that the department is currently frozen at about 930 officers, though he hopes to bring up that number to 1,000 by early next year.
In anticipation of hiring more cops, the city promoted new higher-ranking officers earlier this year.
The promotions, however, were not allowed to go into effect until this month, because the city had not updated its police table of organization to meet with state civil service requirements by mid-June.
Shea said promotions made earlier this year had to be put on hold until the city council adopted the new table of organization that defined these various positions in relationship to civil service rules.
“The state would not approve the promotions already made, until the table of organization is restructured to show the changes,” Shea said. “This required us to detail the new positions and assignments.”
The council adopted an ordinance in mid-July that established the new table of organization.
The table calls for the department to have up to 24 deputy chiefs, 35 captains, 50 lieutenants, 48 sergeants. Ideally, there should be one sergeant to supervise every four cops.
More cops may not be the answer
Pumping up the number of additional officers, however, appeared to be hampered by the retirements throughout the ranks, including some of the deputy chiefs sworn-in earlier this year.
Some ranking police officers claim the reduction in violent crime accomplished earlier in the year was due to the ability of the city to mobilize additional cops through overtime – and that budget cuts to police overtime in June reduced the ability to the department to bring additional personnel to high crime areas.
“Before city cut overtime in the budget, the department could throw bodies out into the streets wherever they needed them,” one police captain said.
Councilman Richard Boggiano, a retired police officer, said the department has sought to compensate for this by shifting police from other areas of the city, in particularly from the North District to the southern part of the city.
“But this leaves the north side of the city vulnerable to crime,” he said, claiming he opposes the policy.
Retirements, some ranking police officers claim, depletes the city’s ability to maintain officers.
Some of these retirements have been prompted by the city’s decision last year to do away with off-duty police assignments.
Mayor Steven Fulop and Director Shea ordered the lucrative program disbanded after a number of officers were charged and convicted for abusing the program, highlighted by the conviction of former Police Chief Phil Zacche, who was supposed to have been providing security for the Jersey City Housing Authority. Zacche admitted accepting money to work off duty as security for the housing agency and then not working a “substantial” number of those shifts.
To make up for the loss of off-duty services to the Housing Authority, Shea said the city has come to an agreement with the housing authority to use on-duty police instead of off-duty cops as in the past.
According to a city resolution passed by the council at its July 17 meeting, the city will supply the housing authority with cops on afternoons and evenings during the regular police shifts with no cost to the housing authority.
“There will no longer be off duty assignments for housing authority property,” Shea said.
An agreement approved by the city council in July would have the department use on-duty cops to patrol housing authority property instead. While some cops believe this will further erode the ability of the department to put cops into troubled areas, Shea said many of these properties are the high crime areas where police are needed anyway.
Retirements will have an impact
Shea told the city council that the department hoped to have 950 cops on the streets, but that retirements would likely keep the number to about 930.
He said the department has been put on notice about some retirements after Aug. 1 and has a list of other officers eligible to retire, some might decide last minute to retire.
“Many we may not know about until they actually happen,” he said.
Shea said he hopes to offset the impact of the retirements with new classes of recruits that have just been approved by the council to attend police academies elsewhere in the state.
Other police officials believe that the department may see a significant loss of personnel over the next six months.
At least two deputy chiefs are expected to retire in August.
Two more deputy chiefs are expected to announce their retirement in September. And as many as six could retire next February police sources claim.
Shea is apparently trying to make up this loss by hiring more cops to fill in the lower ranks, and then promoting officers to ranks that are depleted by the retirements.
There will be a huge savings as a result of the expected retirements in August, possibly as much as $1 million, police sources claim, and significantly more by early next year.
Some high ranking police officials believe the lack of overtime and off-duty assignments may prompt more officers to resign, who might otherwise have stayed on.
Off-duty cops will work PGA tournament
Shea, however, said off-duty assignments will be available as part of an agreement with the Professional Golf Association (PGA) for its upcoming PGA Tour at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City.
Shea said the event will use both off-duty and on-duty cops.
Off-duty police will provide security. On-duty cops traffic control and other police duties.
“This is one of the remaining off duty job opportunities,” Shea said.
The cost to provide off and on duty coverage is estimated at about a half million, Shea said.
“This will be paid back to the city by the PGA,” he said. “But this is an estimated cost based on what it cost two years ago when they held the President’s Cup event there.”
Shea said the city has to provide on-duty police anyway. But the agreement has the PGA paying for all of it, instead of taxpayers.
“We have a good relationship with the PGA based on past experience,” he said. “The PGA is paying for this based on that experience.”
For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Al Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org