Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bergen County NJ looks to save 2.2 million by replacing some police officers with private security www.privateofficer.com

Bergen County NJ Dec 20 2011 Bergen County's three law enforcement agencies — the Bergen County Police Department, Prosecutor's Office and Sheriff's Office — deploy civilian security guards in public facilities, a service that a recent report recommended should be outsourced to save taxpayers as much as $2.2 million over the next five years.

Higgins said that 1 Bergen County Plaza had a contracted vendor providing security about a decade ago and described it as a "catastrophic failure," with poor service, hidden costs and even guards who were arrested by the county police for having outstanding warrants.

The department's civilian security force has evolved over time to include the county administrative building, county parks, schools and other facilities.

"It's a hybrid system, in that some guards have a permanent post, and some guards have a patrol assignment," Higgins said. "We're much more flexible now that we have this force."

Corcoran, who became director in 2008 after serving eight years as Ridgewood police chief, said he read the Guidepost report and did not agree with its recommendation to remove the county police presence on campus.

The Virginia Tech tragedy illustrated the importance of having armed police officers on campus who can respond to a crisis in seconds, he said. Public safety officers at BCC handle everything that does not require police intervention. The county police handle everything else, such as assault, domestic violence or burglary, and the Paramus police are only called when mutual aid is needed, he said.

"That's the demarcation line," Corcoran explained. "For me, because of what's going on in today's world, it's super important to have a sworn officer here. We have 17,000 people here — we're like a city. I'm not taking sides as to where the sworn officer should come from, but there should be a sworn officer here."

The Board of Freeholders agrees. In September, it unanimously approved a renewal of the shared-services agreement with the college, expanding the police presence to four officers and one sergeant.

Under the new contract, the college will pay the county an increasing amount for police service over the next five years, starting with $275,000 in 2012 and ending at $321,711 in 2016.

County Police Sgt. John Laduca, who is assigned to the college, said the county police officers on campus respond to roughly 600 calls per semester.

"Having police officers on campus provides the community with a quick police response to emergencies, coordinated criminal investigations and the ability to form a strong relationship between law enforcement and the academic community," Laduca said.

With its Court Security Unit, the Sheriff's Office is required by statute to provide security for the entire Bergen County Justice Center Complex, including Superior Court judges, their staff, all other judicial employees and all visitors to the Justice Center. The Court Security Unit also is responsible for prisoners as they move throughout the Justice Center and for the safety and security of the Bergen County Probation Department at 133 River St. in Hackensack.

The Court Security Unit consists of 52 officers. The average salary within the unit is $104,000, according to county payroll data.

In its review of the Sheriff's Office, Guidepost found that the Court Unit's staffing levels were appropriate because of the "large volume of judiciary activity in Bergen County." The report noted that, according to the New Jersey Courts 2009-10 annual report, Bergen County had the third-largest volume of trial court filings of all counties in the state from July 2009 to June 2010, and that the filings during this period represented a 7 percent increase in case filings from the preceding one-year period, the largest such increase of all counties within the state.

The Sheriff's Office's seven civilian security guards are not part of the county police guard program and are managed by sheriff's officers. They are not armed.

In his formal response letter to Mitchell on the Guidepost report, Saudino stated that his department is willing to explore privatization of its civilian guards "provided we still have direct oversight over the security guards in the courthouse. Privatizing security guards across all agencies collectively could result in significant cost savings."

The Prosecutor's Office has two civilian guards, both retired police chiefs who work part time at the front entrance of its Paramus office. Joseph Fasulo was police chief in Old Tappan, and Gregory Kallenberg was police chief in Ho-Ho-Kus. Both are paid $28.84 an hour, according to data provided by the Prosecutor's Office.

Fasulo is entitled to a monthly pension of $9,677, and Kallenberg is entitled to $8,578, according to state records.

Though Molinelli did submit a formal response to the Guidepost report shortly after it was published, he did not address the recommendation that his security guards be privatized.

"I don't consider it to be a big-ticket item," he said. "If I contracted out someone to sit at my duty desk … it probably would cost me as much as the two retired chiefs. The amount they make is minimal."


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