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Hackensack Daily Voice serves Hackensack, Maywood, Rochelle Park & South Hackensack
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Saudino: Donovan wrong in gun buyback claim

Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino
Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino Photo Credit: COURTESY: Bergen County Sheriff

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Bergen County Executive Kathleen A. Donovan’s ongoing battle with county Sheriff Michael Saudino took a new turn with a Saturday morning news release in which she accused Saudino of “jeopardizing” citizens by not giving the county police bomb squad live mortar rounds turned in during a gun buyback program last month.

The sheriff, in turn, suggested Donovan pay more attention to her “exploding budgets” than to second-guessing the work of his professional staff.

“It’s unfortunate for the taxpayers that we have a county executive who doesn’t know what she’s doing or talking about,” Richard Moriarty, a spokesman for Saudino, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT this afternoon. “Using her logic, we’d have rather had these rounds on the street.

“At no time was the public in danger,” Moriarty emphasized. “In fact, the public is more secure because these rounds are properly taken off the street and properly disposed of, according to protocol.”

Moriarty said that the three shells were turned over to Bergen County Police “more than a week ago.”

“The county executive should pay more attention to her exploding budgets than to things she doesn’t know about,” he said.

Even though Saudino has a ballistics team, a bomb squad and the equipment and facilities for such circumstances, Donovan — in a news release emailed just before 11 a.m. — called the way his officers handled the mortar rounds turned in on April 13-14 “inappropriate and potentially dangerous.”

Donovan insisted the mortars should have been “turned over to and secured by the Bomb Squad of the Bergen County Police Department, which is proper protocol.

“My concern is that the safety of the citizens of Bergen County may have been jeopardized by what appears to be a breach in the handling of active munitions,” Donovan said in the release.

According to Bergen County Police Chief Brian Higgins, “the collection, storage and disposal of explosive devices” is regulated by the county prosecutor’s Law Services Plan, which he said mandates that these be turned over to his department’s bomb squad.

State Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa ultimately will make the final call on how the situation was handled.

Chiesa has been the driving force behind statewide gun buyback programs that, in the past year, have taken more than 10,000 weapons and a large amount of munitions out of public circulation.

Donovan has been at odds with Saudino for some time. A contract he negotiated with his officers still hangs in limbo while a state appeals court decides whether Donovan is correct in insisting she should have been at the bargaining table.

After a judge in Hackensack ordered her to implement the 2011 and 2012 pay raises, Donovan went to a higher court.

“I am accountable so I must be responsible. That’s why I am fighting to have a seat at the bargaining table with the sheriff’s officers,” Donovan said.

Saudino, in turn, accused Donovan of deliberately lying about the pact in order to win political points and make him look bad.

The battle will affect how Bergen County is policed going forward.

Two months ago, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli put Saudino in charge of a regional SWAT team while giving both county agencies a month to implement a plan dividing specific K-9 duties — which Donovan vehemently opposed. This was done under the Law Services Plan that Higgins referred to.

Molinelli pledged to make changes after the outgoing freeholder board last year nixed a plan to merge the BCPD and Sheriff’s Office. The prosecutor said his aim was to “reverse” the “1894 mentality” of creating separate and individual specialized units — such as SWAT and K-9 teams, the way local police departments were created in the 19th Century — and, instead, collect, consolidate and coordinate operations.

Donovan, in turn, said she was notifying all municipal governments that the county wouldn’t assume any liability or risk under the plan — and said she would order all county agencies to ignore the prosecutor’s directive.

The freeholders rejection last year of an ordinance dissolving the 89-member BCPD gave a victory to Donovan and ended talk of a “super department” run by the county sheriff — at least at the time.

Saudino responded with a plan under which his office would take control of the bomb squad, merge both departments’ K-9 units and move more than three dozen officers into “Homeland Security” duty — serving papers and conducting random park patrols.

Saudino proposed putting both the county communications center and the Office of Emergency Management under civilian control, with a minimal number of officers assigned to both.

The sheriff also saw no need for Civil Service waivers, suggesting instead moving BCPD officers into his office’s pay scale — in other words: $30,000 a year pay cuts, on average, for those who ended up working for the Sheriff’s Office.

Factoring in those moves, along with attrition, Saudino put the potential cost savings at $19.5 million over two years.

In Donovan’s view, putting “critical police functions” in the hands of an elected official “jeopardizes public safety.”

“The Sheriff’s Department, although an integral part of county government, is not a police organization. Their core functions are to oversee the Jail, Courthouse and serve process,” she said last fall. “On the other hand, the Bergen County Police provide valuable services to every citizen and to every town in Bergen Country.

“The Bergen County Police provide very specialized functions, SWAT, Bomb Squad, K-9, Scuba, patrolling our vast county park system, providing safety and security at our county educational facilities, in addition to their expanding role in assisting local police departments with patrol work.

“Calls to the Bergen County Police from local police departments have increased by 23% this year,” Donovan added in October. “The help from the Bergen County Police prevents the need for local departments to hire more officers and is the single biggest reason why local governments have been able to keep a 2% tax cap on property taxes in place.”

The state of law enforcement throughout the county has been in tumult for some time, with several local departments insisting they should remain as they are, and the police union for the sheriffs insisting that Donovan is acting in her best interests, not those of taxpayers.

Donovan has pointed to the potential cost savings of folding the smaller departments – with their individual administrations and operating costs – into the larger existing county agency.

That didn’t fly in Demarest, where a plan to absorb the department into the BCPD was rejected by freeholders after voters expressed their approval for such a move in a non-binding referendum last November. Demarest officials then began talking about layoffs to make up for a budget gap.

RELATED:

Molinelli officially puts Bergen sheriff in charge of regional SWAT, splits K-9 duties

CVP EXCLUSIVE: As first reported here two months ago, a 2013 Law Enforcement Services Plan issued this morning by Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli officially gives county police four months to join a regional SWAT team that will be headed by the county sheriff, while giving both county agencies a month to implement a plan dividing specific K-9 duties. READ MORE….

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Donovan: Bergen County won’t be liable for prosecutor’s new policing plan

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Bergen County Executive Kathleen A. Donovan today said she is notifying all municipal governments in Bergen County that the county wouldn’t assume any liability or risk if Prosecutor John L. Molinelli’s plan to have county police join a regional SWAT team headed by the county sheriff and split specific K-9 duties goes into effect. She also said she would order all county agencies to ignore the prosecutor’s directive. READ MORE….

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Saudino: Donovan lied about BCPD pay hikes

A SHERIFF WRITES: It is unfortunate that the County Executive has grown accustomed to purposefully releasing lies to the taxpayers of Bergen County in an effort to cover up the nearly 10% pay increase she gave the Bergen County Police Department immediately after taking office. READ MORE….

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State court upholds Donovan request for delay in Bergen sheriff’s contract

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A state appeals court has ordered a delay in the implementation of new contract for the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office until it can determine whether county Executive Kathleen Donovan had the right to be part of the negotiations. READ MORE….

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Court rejects PERC bid to join Donovan suit against sheriff’s raises

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A state court has rejected a bid by New Jersey PERC to intervene in Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan’s appeal of a local judge’s decision that she implement 2011 and 2012 pay raises negotiated by Sheriff Michael Saudino and the union representing his officers. READ MORE….

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Judge: Public ‘will be served’ once Donovan pays sheriff’s officers

INSIDE THE RULING: Taxpayers “will be served, not harmed” if Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan delivers the negotiated 2011 and 2012 pay raises that she so far has denied county sheriff’s officers, Superior Court Judge Joseph Conte wrote, in refusing to reconsider his order of last month that Donovan do so immediately. READ MORE….

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Saudino: $59.9M budget is $250,000 less than Donovan proposed

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino this morning proposed a $59.9 million budget to the county freeholders featuring what he called “unprecedented cuts” totaling more than a quarter-million dollars less than what county Executive Kathleen Donovan proposed for his office. READ MORE….

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