The Montville Township Police Department will work to implement a number of staffing recommendations resulting from a year-long study highlighting the department’s strengths and weaknesses.
Township Administrator Victor Canning addressed all 21 of the suggestions made by Matrix Consulting Group, the California company which conducted the study at Tuesday's township committee meeting.
High among those recommendations was increasing patrol staffing levels to 22 officers. Canning said he and Police Chief Richard Cook would ideally like more officers on patrol but that uncertainty over next year’s budget makes that a lofty goal.
The department will also service two suggestions – further defining the patrol sergeant role and authorizing a permanent part-time dispatcher – by looking into hiring a per diem, or floating, dispatcher.
“Prior to 2008, we had that in the budget,” Cook said. “We used to use a per diem dispatcher all the time.”
The floating dispatcher would allow patrol sergeants to get out in the field and would likely come from attrition or the retirement of a full-time dispatcher who might consider a part-time position, Canning said.
The administrator said he is also reticent about consolidating dispatch services with the Morris County Communications Center. Using Tropical Storm Sandy as an example, Canning said it can be nice for a town to be able to do its own dispatching.
“I’m not sure, if we went to a county level dispatch [during Sandy], we’d get that same level of service,” Canning said. “It’s clearly something we can discuss further because budget is a problem. But I’ve become more of a fan of keeping it here than sending it away.”
To address the study’s suggestion that one detective position be eliminated and placed back in patrol, Canning, a former police officer, offered what he called a “hybrid solution.” He said officers would have the opportunity to work toward that detective position but would be placed back in patrol if an officer goes out on disability or personal leave.
“Having been a police officer in a patrol car, on the day I was sworn in, I aspired to become a detective,” the administrator said. “The chief and I agreed to maintain allowing patrol officers to aspire to learn, to see a different aspect of law enforcement and show different abilities beyond the patrol car.”
Canning said he and Cook disagreed with one key staffing suggestion offered by Matrix – hiring a civilian investigative analyst. The administrator said, having worked in investigation analysis, he doesn’t like the idea of a civilian having anything to do with such a case.
“It’s just a recipe for trouble,” Canning said. “And I’m not sure what savings benefits it would bring.”
There were a number of other suggestions for which the department will keep its current procedures or simply will not implement the recommendation because it does not fit the department at this time.
Canning said the department is going to stick with its policy of having two officers out on arrests – ignoring the recommendation to go down to one per arrest – due to both safety and liability issues.
“As a former law enforcement officer, I wouldn’t want the liability that comes with that,” Canning said. “If one officer has a prisoner, they could accuse that officer of just about anything – brutality, excessive force – and now we deal with the issue of ‘he said, she said.’”
Committeewoman Deborah Nielson suggested installing cameras on one or two cars to act as a “second pair of eyes and ears,” allowing for occasional situations when one officer can go out alone on an arrest. Canning said he was aware of officer liability cases that were bolstered by the presence of cameras but cautioned that the cost of upgrading and maintaining that technology can be steep.
The study suggested that the township eliminate the use of motorcycles for traffic enforcement, partially due to the recommendation that traffic duties be absorbed into patrol.
However, Canning said he doesn’t see the benefit of giving up on equipment that is already paid for, uses up just more than a thousand miles per year and can be more useful than a car in a crowd control situation. Cook said the department often uses motorcycles for funerals and gets many compliments from residents.
The department is looking to purchase three patrol cars and two sport utility vehicles to comply with the study’s recommendation to implement a plan to replace 20 percent of patrol vehicles annually. One SUV will be purchased out of the department’s operating budget. Canning said he hopes to pay for the other four using money owed to the township by Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G).
“The guys in a car 12 hours a day should have a new car,” Cook said. “That’s their offices.”
Mayor Tim Braden cautioned that the PSE&G money will not be available every year. Therefore, he said the township needs to develop a plan, rather than using the “Band-Aid approach.”