Findings from a year-long study of the Montville Township Police Department were presented at Tuesday night's township committee meeting, highlighting aspects the department does well and areas in need of improvement.
As Township Committeewoman Deborah Nielson said, although in summary, Robert Finn, of the Matrix Consulting Group, the California company which conducted the study, recommended the department reduce staff by one captain position and one detective position while adding a patrol position.
Finn shared with the committee recommendations for minimum and optimal staffing levels of officers on the road. At a minimum, the consultants recommended one supervisor and three patrol officers on a night shift and one supervisor and four patrol officers on a day shift. At optimal staffing, traffic duties would be reassigned and the department would staff one supervisor and six officers on a day shift and one supervisor and five officers on a night shift.
"This staffing level would still let you provide a high level of service, still providing adequate coverage," Finn said.
The reduction of the single captain position, which would bring the 37-employee department down to 36, would be in conjunction with a shift of one lieutenant in the traffic division to an administrative services role, overseeing administrative records and dispatch records. Finn also recommended adding a civilian investigative analyst position to assist with investigations and serve as an evidence custodian.
Finn said he would not recommend the department cut any additional positions.
"Because you leave town to do the jail transports, you really can't go much below that and maintain an effective police force," he said.
Regarding jail transports, Finn said the consultants recommended only one officer to transport prisoners. Nielson raised concerns about the recommended reduction from two.
"You have one officer, so you don't have a witness and I would think there would be potential exposure," she said.
"I wouldn't want to put any of our officers at risk and even with a docile individual, anything can change in an instant."
As a prelude to his presentation, Finn explained that the study was conducted to identify areas where efficiencies could be achieved in the department. He noted that Montville is not alone in examining ways to be more fiscally responsible in all areas of the municipality, given the current economic climate.
"It's gotten to the point now that even public safety is not immune to those cost-cutting efforts," Finn said.
For research purposes, the consultants spent time interviewing police officers and community members, conducting ridealongs, reviewing police records and technology and retrieving results from a confidential online survey of employees from throughout the organization. Through the study, Finn said, a few key themes were found: that there is a perception that the department is understaffed; that supervisors have a low span of control; and that service level expectations are not fully developed.
However, a number of positive attributes of the department were also found and described by Finn Tuesday night.
"Patrol officers are making good use of available time," he said.
Finn said the response times to high-priority and overall calls is "excellent" within the department, with the response time averaging about 7 minutes and 24 seconds (not including emergency or domestic violence calls).
"Typically, if you ask a member of the community, 'How soon would you expect an officer to respond?' 5 minutes rolls off the tongue," Finn said, implying that the Montville police department is not far off.
Finn also said the local department has as low level of Part 1 crimes, which include more serious offenses such as homicide, when compared to other parts of New Jersey and municipalities along the East Coast. The proportion of cases assigned to Montville detectives that later result in arrests is also high, Finn said, with approximately 34 percent of the assigned cases ending in arrest.
But the department could improve its technology infrastructure, Finn said, as well as begin a police vehicle replacement schedule. Finn said a police car should be decommissioned after 100,000 miles are accumulated and that the Montville fleet has several vehicles nearing that mark.
"By no means do we recommend you do this in one move," he said. "We think it's prudent that you set the schedule and replace five vehicles a year moving forward until you catch up."
Mayor Tim Braden expressed concerns about police coverage in the courtroom, an issue he said was first raised by the municipal judge but not included in the study's findings.
"We come up short with security in the courtroom," Braden said.
Finn said a municipal judge typically dictates the level of police coverage in court.
"At some level, a municipal police officer is assigned as bailiff," he said.
However, Township Administrator Victor Canning said officials are working on a system that will provide more presence during municipal court hours.
"Going forward, we have a plan to provide armed security, hopefully in the form of retired police officers," Canning said.
Police Benevolent Association Local 140 President Tom Mooney was the only member of the public to comment on the presentation.
"Since the committee chose to spend $35,000 of taxpayer money on the study, I feel they are now obligated to abide by it," he said.
Braden said the committee members will take three weeks to "digest" the information provided by the consultants and discuss the recommendations further when the committee reconvenes on Nov. 13.