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North Bergen ordinance would make it easier to hire entry-level law enforcement

Mayor Nicholas Sacco said the move aims to make the force 'more reflective of the community'

Mayor Nicholas Sacco and North Bergen officials swear in four new police officers on Jan. 26.

The North Bergen Board of Commissioners has introduced an ordinance that would amend the hiring practices for entry-level law enforcement officers, essentially making it easier to become a police officer.

According to the ordinance, the hiring practices of the township are governed by the New Jersey Civil Service Commission and the New Jersey Administrative Code. On Feb. 4, 2021, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law amending the Civil Service Act to permit municipalities to hire police officers who have not taken the civil service law enforcement examination, but are otherwise qualified.

New hiring practices for entry-level officers

“That allowed towns to hire police officers, even if they hadn’t taken the civil service exam, provided they take a course that is known as the full Basic Police Course for Police Officers,” Township Counsel Tom Kobin said at the Jan. 26 meeting.

Under the new state law, which took effect in August of 2021, hiring authorities will be permitted to appoint candidates who have successfully completed a full Basic Police Course for Police Officers training course at a school approved and authorized by the New Jersey Police Training Commission.

“So if someone had taken that course, we can hire them even though they didn’t take the civil service exam,” Kobin said.

According to the ordinance, the township and police department are in compliance with the law’s requirements to have adopted conflict of interest and nepotism policies. The township is seeking to enact this new police officer hiring option “for the health and safety of its residents, to fill critical positions, and to further enhance the North Bergen Police Department’s existing diversity.”

New law amended recently

According to Kobin, in Jan. 18, 2022, the legislature amended the law, and opened it up to include other positions.

“Last week, they modified that law in a couple ways,” Kobin said. “They opened it up to sheriff’s officers, to corrections officers, county police, and other law enforcement. The other thing they did is they said that we can hire officers before they take that course that’s approved by the state police commission.”

Under the amended law, Kobin said that the township can hire officers prior to them taking the full Basic Police Course for Police Officers. They would be temporary employees standing for the force with pay. Then, when they complete the course, if they meet all other requirements, the township can convert them to a permanent employee.

However, the amended law doesn’t kick in until later in the year. So the ordinance will phase in when it becomes effective, according to Kobin.

“The law passed last week doesn’t become effective until six months from now,” Kobin said. “So the ordinance we’re introducing we’ve got to consider and incorporate into it, the new law.”

‘More reflective of the community’

Mayor Nicholas Sacco said the ordinance aims to help the police department better represent residents.

“The genesis of the law is to make the force more reflective of the community,” Sacco said.

According to Sacco, the township already has a residency requirement for the police force. However, North Bergen is looking to bring more residents onto the force “without having to go through the strenuous test,” he said, adding that it would be on a case-by-case basis.

“We’re pretty diverse as it is right now,” Sacco said. “This doesn’t hurt us, it helps us.”

“I think it’ll help us tremendously,” Police Chief Peter Fasilis added.

The ordinance will be up for a public hearing and vote at the next meeting of the North Bergen Board of Commissioners. The commissioners will meet next on Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. at the Municipal Building at 4233 Kennedy Boulevard. For more information, go to northbergen.org and click on the link on the calendar webpage.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.