HACKENSACK, N.J. – Layoffs of what were once Bergen County Police officers could have been avoided if union leaders had allowed members to vote on a revised proposal aimed at keeping them employed, Sheriff Michael Saudino said.
Twenty-six law enforcement officers with the reconstituted Bureau of Police Services were laid off Monday, and 11 more were demoted, according to PBA Local 49 President Chris Weston.
Saudino said union leadership “failed in three attempts to halt the approved layoffs through the courts” and the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, yet he “agreed to three separate delays of the plan.”
The sheriff said he “was hopeful that the County Police union would understand the problem and recognize the needs of the taxpayers, as well as the needs of their members and their families.
“Currently the top salary for a county police officer is $154,160, whereas top salary for a county sheriff’s officer is $136,165, making the county police officer’s salary within the top 1% for all police officers in the state of New Jersey,” Saudino said.
Last week, he said, PBA Local 49 rejected a proposed agreement that he said “would have kept all effected officers employed while saving tax dollars.”
“At the request of PBA Local 49’s leadership, three primary changes were made to the proposal with the understanding that another vote would be taken,” the sheriff said. “This would have allowed a deployed serviceman/county police officer who reportedly did not initially vote the ability to vote and to also allow for PBA 49 members to consider the new language in the proposal.
“Unfortunately, the leadership of PBA Local 49 substituted its own judgment in place of its own members by failing to let their membership re-vote, which would have allowed individual members to make their own decision on what is best for them and their families,” the sheriff said.
“I am disappointed that PBA Local 49 wouldn’t allow the officers the opportunity to vote again after clarification of several important issues were made,” Saudino said.
“It has long been the public policy of the state of New Jersey to eliminate duplication of law enforcement services in all New Jersey counties,” he said. “Currently, Bergen is one of two counties in the state that still have both a sheriff’s office and a county police department [now known as the Bureau of Police Services within the sheriff’s office].
“The state requires that sheriff’s officers, not county police officers, provide law enforcement services in the County Justice Complex,” he said. “Recently the state added a requirement that all civil court room be protected by a sheriff’s officer, therefore resulting in the need for additional sheriff’s officers.
Saudino’s remarks came after the police services officers and dozens of their supporters walked Monday along River Street in Hackensack from the Bergen County Plaza to the Bureau of Criminal Investigation building to turn in their equipment on their last day of work.
Bergen's freeholder board in February 2015 approved folding what had been the county police department into the sheriff's office -- a move predicted to save county taxpayers anywhere from $90 million to $200 million over 25 years.
County Executive Jim Tedesco, who signed a pair of ordinances making the consolidation official, said at the time that the "historic" move created "a new law-enforcement agency guided by a true professional.”
No changes were made to what were existing contracts. Trouble began, however, once negotiations on new pacts began.
Weston, the PBA president, said the officers received emails Sunday night informing them that they would be laid off at 4 p.m.
Among the 37 officers who were affected by the move, 19 are veterans, he said.
“We have one officer who is overseas. He doesn’t know if he is going to have a job when he gets back from Afghanistan,” Weston said.
Another veteran, John Baker, served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq, and spent more than 11 years as an officer with Bergen County. He was in Hackensack Monday to turn in his equipment.
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