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The complete Bergen County police consolidation plan — with highlights

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A long-awaited police consolidation plan unveiled today by the four Democratic majority members of the Bergen County freeholder board promises to save anywhere from $90.6 million to $200.4 million over 25 years by putting the county police department under the control of the county sheriff.

Freeholder Chairman David Ganz said the entire blueprint will be released to all county officials on Friday. However, CLIFFVIEW PILOT has obtained a copy ( SEE BELOW ).

No one loses his or her job, or takes a pay cut, under the proposal. However, the chain of command changes dramatically, and new hires would come in at the lower base salary for the sheriff’s office. Meanwhile, 10 civilians would take over duties handled by county police at Bergen’s dispatch center in Mahwah and Office of Emergency Management.

County police would still patrol — continuing to write tickets that only they can present in Central Municipal Court — and keep their bomb-squad and SWAT duties.

“For three years I’ve said that merging the County Police with the Sheriff’s Office is a common-sense way to provide millions in property tax relief for Bergen County taxpayers without compromising public or officer safety,” Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino told CLIFFVIEW PILOT this afternoon.

“At the end of the day, the details of the plan are a policy issue which must be decided by the freeholders and on which I have no vote,” Saudino added, “but I stand ready, willing and able to work with officials of both parties to implement whatever plan is voted into action.

Bergen County Police Chief Brian Higgins, Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino

“In my first term as sheriff I’ve cut annual spending by over $1.7 million and reduced overtime by over 40%, and I look forward to bringing the same proven results and fiscal accountability to a consolidated county force by improving the overall utilization of manpower across the county.”

County Executive Kathleen Donovan is expected to oppose the plan, which Ganz said will officially be introduced at an Oct. 2 public freeholder meeting. The Board has the votes to approve the plan, as well as enough to override a veto by Donovan.

The fifth vote necessary to override would come from either Republican John Felice or John Mitchell, who have supported the move — and were both part of a GOP effort to merge the agencies. Fellow Republican Freeholder Maura DeNicola supports Donovan in wanting to keep things as they are.

Observers and participants have said Donovan likely would then go to court in an effort to stop the police consolidation, which she repeatedly has said the freeholders don’t have the authority to implement.

Donovan’s chief of staff, Jeanne Baratta, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT : “The County Executive will have plenty to say about this when it is presented to her. As of today, we have not been given this plan from the Freeholder Board. Yes, we have seen it in various news sources, but this is not the way county business is conducted.

“David Ganz, or shall I refer to him as ‘freeholder #1′ as in the Ferriero indictment, must be nostalgic for the ‘good ol’ days.’ I can’t think of any other reason why he, Voss, Zur and Tanelli would unveil this scheme at the Democrat Political Headquarters (the Enterprise, as described in the Ferriero indictment).

“The Democrats talk of transparency in government,” Baratta said. “If this was a true and honest attempt at a government initiative, why wasn’t it unveiled at the Freeholder meeting, when the public could have asked questions?

“The obvious answer is that this is a political initiative,” she said, “and the County Executive will not play politics with the county’s public safety.”

During a news conference hours earlier at county Democratic headquarters in Hackensack, Ganz said: “The issue has been studied to death without resolution. We propose to change all that today.”

Ganz ( top photo ) said he hasn’t specifically discussed the completed plan with Saudino but that “the sheriff has been consulted along.”

Going forward, he said, implementation and changes to the plan will be done by law enforcement professionals.

The major change is to the public safety table of organization, which under an updated county code is now within freeholder authority.  The Bergen County Police as an agency isn’t being abolished – it’s being absorbed by the sheriff’s office, the Democrats emphasized.

The initial savings the first and second year will be “modest,” Ganz said. These will increase over time through retirements.

Conservative estimates have put the number of BCPD employees eligible to retire at 20.

The Democrats offered two long-term projections: One took into account keeping all 524 officers in the two departments, which they said could save more than $90 million a year over 25 years, and another figured in attrition that dropped the number to 480 and promised a whopping $200 million a year in savings over the same period.

HIGHLIGHTS (FULL PLAN BELOW):

·         No one loses his or her job;

·         Entire BCPD falls under Bergen County Sheriff’s Office;

·         BCPD chief reports to the sheriff and cannot hold any other position unless the sheriff OKs it (the current county police chief, Brian Higgins, is also the Bergen public safety director);

·        The Department of Law and Public Safety, under which the county police currently exists, remains, overseeing functions such as county Office of Emergency Management and consumer protection bureau;

·         Larger Sheriff’s Office allows officers to “serve as a force multiplier,” thus increasing county law enforcement capacity;

·         BCPD continues to operate as a unit;

·         All specialty units will continue, with no loss of certifications

·         Same number of officers on the road;

·         Increase efficiency and eliminate duplicate services;

·         Income from Central Municipal Court continues;

·         Savings to taxpayers over 25 years: between $90.6 million and $200.41 million, based on variables;

·         Additional savings can result from “unquantifiable items,” such as sharing vehicles and economies of scale.  There can also be greater savings depending on decisions made in the future by law enforcement personnel.

Bergen County Police Consolidation Plan

  1. THE PURPOSE OF THE PLAN

The Democratic Freeholders of Bergen County seek to reduce taxes and improve public safety by consolidating the County Police as a division of the Sheriff’s Department under a new streamlined table of organization. This document is a plan of action and not another commissioned study into law enforcement.  Once implemented by the Freeholder Board, this plan will improve public safety, save taxpayers millions of dollars, eliminate duplicative services, cut waste, and improve efficiency.

  1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The Democratic Freeholders of Bergen County propose leaving the County Police as a distinct unit and move it, in its entirety, from civilian administration under the Division of Law and Public Safety, to the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department as part of an organizational realignment.

The Administrative Code allows the Board of Chosen Freeholders to reorganize departments, as they deem necessary and appropriate.   It is the intent of this plan to alter the table of organization.

The County Police will continue as its own division under the Sheriff’s Department, headed by the Chief of Police. This plan mandates no reduction in force.  The new Sheriff’s Department will include 524 sworn officers and consists of 281 corrections officers and 243 Sheriff’s Officers/County Police.  Some duplicative functions may allow for a future reduction in personnel, the Democratic Freeholders plan calls for no force reduction and that all changes in staffing levels will be through attrition.  It guarantees that no officer loses their job.

The Democratic Freeholders of Bergen County believe that decisions regarding personnel and implementation of this plan should be decided by experienced law enforcement professionals.  Posts that may be civilianized such as the Academy, OEM, Communications and Dispatch will be changed by attrition. Qualified experts and retired officers can easily fill those positions at a reduced rate. We have identified 10 positions that may be filled by civilians. As other current County Police officers retire, they will be replaced by new hires within the Sheriff’s Department or though inter-agency transfers.

Additionally the Freeholders will empanel a blue-ribbon panel of law enforcement professionals in order to asses the appropriate level of staffing levels that the merged Sheriff’s Department in order to maintain public safety at the highest level. The panel will set an appropriate table of organization. These determinations will be encapsulated as a Memorandum of Understanding and signed by the Sheriff, the County Prosecutor, the County Executive and adopted by this Freeholder Board. The panel will be commissioned immediately and have no more than 6 months to make these determinations and execute this Memorandum of Understanding.

Key facts:

  • No reduction in force.

  • The same number of police will be on the road after implementation as today.

  • No sworn officers will be laid off.

  • Additional savings will occur by taking sworn officers out of dispatch, OEM, Communications or the Academy and replacing them with civilians, at a reduced cost.

  • The Chief of Police will report to the Sheriff and shall not hold any other position unless deemed necessary by the Sheriff.

  • Additional savings will potentially come from planned attrition over the next 25 years but is not mandated and the ultimate decision will rest with the Sheriff.

  • Increased efficiency and elimination of duplication of services will save additional dollars.

  • Through coordination, these forces can more effectively serve as a force multiplier thus increasing County Law enforcement capacity.

The savings are substantial

Through this change in the County’s table of organization ( above ), Bergen County taxpayers will begin benefitting immediately, seeing improved public safety and millions in tax relief.

Calculations and analysis performed for this plan show a minimum savings to taxpayers of $90.61 million with the potential for $200.41 million or more over 25 years including pension responsibilities. This range does not include savings that cannot be quantified at this time (consolidated purchasing and repairs for example) and as such may push savings even higher in both calculations.

The savings of hiring one Sheriff’s Officer compared to hiring one County Police Officer in the current structure is at least $933,612 over the course of a 25 years career including the subsequent pension and health care obligations.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: FOR ACTUAL FIGURES USED, SEE APPENDIXES BELOW

Currently, there is documented duplication in the areas of K-9, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) and Special Operations Group (SOG), traffic, and detective bureaus, as well as in administration. Merging these services within the new Sheriff’s Department will allow for greater accountability and enhanced law enforcement capabilities.   The merged department creates better flexibility and cross assignment within these divisions that will positively affect overtime and services.

  1. METHODOLOGY

The plan includes projected costs to the County if no action were taken and two additional models that project a range of savings for the County with a merger over a 25-year period.

Model 1

The minimum savings county taxpayers would realize as a result of this merger is $90.61 million.   This was calculated by the determining the difference in salary and wages, fringe benefits, clothing allowance and projectable elements of pension, healthcare and overtime over the course of a 25-year career.  This model maintains the exact number of officers we have today in both the Sheriff’s Department and County Police.  It reduces overtime percentages of County Police Officers to 1.9% of salary a level consistent with the Sheriff’s Department from their current levels of 6.43%. The merged department will allow for better flexibility and cross assignment within these divisions that will be able to positively affect overtime and services.

The first model further calculates the cost savings of civilianizing 10 positions through attrition.  The positions would be filled by qualified experts or retired police officers. Those positions include uniform officers presently assigned fulltime to the dispatch center, training academy and Office of Emergency Management.

Model 2

The second model takes into consideration the potential savings by eliminating duplicative services and increasing efficiency.  Among the areas of duplication are K-9, SWAT, Special Operations Group (SOG), traffic, detective bureaus and administration.

The Democratic Freeholders conducted nearly 50 professional interviews, both formal and informal.  The Freeholders examined findings in the Guidepost Report, findings in the Bergen County Law Enforcement Consolidation Task Force and the 1990’s Buracker Report.  Additionally, a thorough structural and fiscal analysis was performed on what has been done in other counties in New Jersey.

Officials who were consulted include the current Bergen County Sheriff, the former Director of Law and Public Safety, the Bergen County Prosecutor and the Sheriff of a neighboring county who had implemented a similar merger.

Using different projections and reports and based on professional expertise it is believed that a Sheriff’s Department force of 480 officers would provide all of the law enforcement services currently provided in the two separate departments.   Achieving this staffing level would only be done through attrition and once again is not mandated.  It will be up to the Bergen County Sheriff to make these determinations.  It would not be prudent to make definitive decisions prior to the merger being implemented.

Not included in either model is savings associated with the two departments that cannot be quantified at this time and will only be realized post merger.  They potential selling of office space by consolidating buildings, consolidating record keeping, reduction in demand for vehicles and gas, consolidation of IT, combining administrative staffs, and consolidation of garages.

After the merger takes full effect and with proper management, additional savings bringing the total saved to well over $100 million in model 1 and $210 in model 2 is probable.

Formula Facts

Individuals

The calculation of the cost of each individual is comprised of five elements. The elements are salary, fringe, shift differential, clothing allowance, and the county’s anticipated pension bill.

Salary

Salary is calculated using the step system as outlined in the appendix. Once an officer reaches the top step of their rank they then begin to receive annual raises. Bergen County Police Officers receive 2.49% raises and Bergen County Sheriff’s Officers receive 2% raises.

Fringe

The fringe costs associated with the employees in the models were calculated using the percentages of salary that those costs represent. The elements incorporated into the overall fringe rates are Medicare, Social Security, Medicare Reimbursement, Dental, Eyeglasses, Prescription, Workers Compensation, Unemployment Trust Fund, Hospitalization, Pension, and Longevity. The County Police Contract fringe rate is 59.75% of salary. The Sheriff Department Contract fringe rate is 72.84%.

Clothing Allowance

The cost of clothing allowance is calculated at a rate of $850 per Bergen County Police Officer. The clothing allowance for Bergen County Sheriff’s Officers is calculated at a rate of $1,200 per officer.

Shift Differential

Shift Differential is bonus pay which officers receive for working on a less desirable shift. All Bergen County Police Officers receive an annual shift differential payment of $2,608. Shift differential is paid out to 71.8% of Sheriff’s Officers at a rate of $3,000 per annum.

Pension

The pension cost that an officer presents to the county was calculated by multiplying the average of their three highest annual salaries by the actuarial rate and the number of years that the county will be making the payment. For years where the actuarial rate was unknown the ten-year average of 18.52% was used. The time period used for all officers was the first 20 years of payments that would be accrued.

Health Payouts

These numbers were not included in the overall calculations but have been taken into account as potential expenses in the course of normal county budgets. The size of this expense is not expected to change as a result of this reorganization of Bergen County Law Enforcement.

Job Vacancies / Hires

The attrition rates were applied at a 5.54% rate for the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office and a 4.72% rate for the Bergen County Police. Changes in overall cost to the county from retirements by officers were determined using the projected average cost of an officer in that year.

  1. IMPROVING PUBLIC SAFETY

The goal of police consolidation has always been to not only save taxpayer dollars but also to improve public safety in the process.  Through this plan Bergen County will create one cohesive county law enforcement department under the Sheriff’s Department that will allow for better communication, fluidity, greater accountability and increased capabilities.  This plan will create a Sheriff’s Department that can focus on its previous core responsibilities while also becoming a reliable support agency for local police departments.

  1. CURRENT MAKEUP OF LAW ENFORCEMENT IN BERGEN COUNTY

Bergen County has 436 Sheriff’s Officers, 88 County Police Officers, and more than 2000 officers in its 68 municipal police departments. The Bergen County Prosecutor’s office is the lead law enforcement agency, and Bergen County has areas of overlapping jurisdiction with the New Jersey State Police the Palisades Interstate Parkway Police, NJ Transit Police and Port Authority Police.

While the intention of these multiple layers was to offer support and provide specialty units to local law enforcement, redundancy has developed over time. This redundancy is what taxpayers can no longer afford.

The services offered by both the Sheriff’s Department and County Police are essential to public safety in Bergen County. However, two separate county agencies duplicating services does not speak to efficiency or the best utilization of resources.  The lack of communication and cooperation alone wastes tax dollars and puts public safety at risk.

A potential situation could arise, with the multitude of law enforcement departments in Bergen County, where as many as 5 law enforcement agencies arrive on a scene. If a fatality were to occur on the New Jersey Turnpike or Route 3, local police would be the first responders, as well as the County Police’s Medical Examiner’s Office Investigators, Sheriff’s Department Officers with the Bureau of Investigation, the Bergen County Prosecutor with the Fatal Accident Squad, and the State Police because the accident occurred on a State Highway.

  1. HISTORY

Sheriff

In the State of New Jersey, the County Sheriff is a constitutionally mandated elected position.  The history of the office traces back to as early as 1661, the Dutch appointed a “schout” or sheriff for the town of Bergen. He served until 1664 when the British took control of the province. The Schout took control again when the Dutch reasserted authority in 1673, but the following year, the British retook the province and the Schout vanished from Bergen County history.

By Act of the General assembly in 1682, a sheriff was to serve annually in each county.  By 1698, the Sheriff served for a year then had to sit out three years before he could again hold that office.   The NJ State Constitution of 1844 increased the Sheriff’s term to three years and provided for his selection by public election.

The Sheriff is a constitutional officer who serves a three-year term and may succeed himself (unlike in 1844).  He is the chief elected law enforcement officer of the county.

County Police

The Bergen County Traffic Police was started in 1917 when the Board of Chosen Freeholders appointed Arthur “Bert” Bredin, as the lone Police Officer to regulate the increasing traffic on County roads.  Initial duties included monitoring the condition of County Roads for safety and reporting any defects to the County Road Department and County Engineer.  In 1918 George Shafer was added to assist Peter Siccardi with police duties.  In 1921 the County Freeholders expanded the Police Department to eight members – a Chief, Lieutenant, and six Patrolmen.  During this early period of the Bergen County Traffic Police, enforcement centered on speeders, weight limits on county bridges, as well as monitoring and providing assistance to all local police departments with basic police services.

In 1924 the Department was increased to twelve men.  The Bergen County Traffic Police Headquarters was located in a single-family house on the corner of Hudson, Essex and Main Street, Hackensack (this building has since been demolished) on the same location as the old County Administration Building.

In 1928 the Bergen County Police Department became the first department in the United States to have an Aerial Police.  After a crash the Freeholders refused to pay for the repair or replacement of the aircraft and the era of the first Aerial Police came to an end.

Today, only Bergen and Union Counties maintain county Police Departments. Camden County recently reinstituted its County Police Force primarily to replace the City of Camden force.  County police departments across the State other than the two remaining have been merged or phased out entirely. In 1992 a blue ribbon panel under Governor Jim Florio concluded that law enforcement responsibilities not performed by County Prosecutors should be placed under the County Sheriff’s departments.

The Sheriff’s Department is constitutionally mandated in New Jersey, where the County Police Department is not.

VII. FINDINGS

Models – Two models show our projected range of savings to be between $90.61 million and $200.41 million dollars over the course of 25 years, plus savings in resulting pension bills and certain fixed cost programs.


The difference between the County Police and Sheriff’s Department contracts is stark, while Sheriff’s Officers receive the very same academy training. The eventual hiring of all employees on the Sheriff’s contract will result in significant savings.

The Bergen Freeholders have long regulated overtime in all county departments including the County Police and the Sheriff. The Democratic Freeholders anticipate further reductions in overtime, which costs taxpayers 1.5 times hourly salary plus additional costs.

Overtime will be reduced and can be projected at a lower rate. Increased fluidity between departments would equal less overtime. Better cross training between departments would equal less overtime.

One of the final and most important results from this organizational shift will be an improved and increased exchange of information between State, County and Local Law Enforcement. By consolidating county law enforcement under one agency, the flow of information will be much more seamless and will help avoid the miscommunications we have witnessed in the past.

Savings not factored into formula

By placing all County Law Enforcement at the Sheriff’s offices, the merger will allow the county to repurpose and/or sell off any additional space and better allocate equipment.

By combining the two administrative staffs the Sheriff’s Department will be able to eliminate some administrative positions.

By bringing all payroll operations under one roof, the county will be able to obtain some modest savings.

By consolidating record keeping the merger will make law enforcement communication and follow up more seamless and less expensive

Consolidation of IT will make law enforcement purchasing and communications more efficient.

Consolidation of garages, a reduction in demand on vehicles, fuel and maintenance will result from the Sheriff’s Department/County Police merger.

Increased revenue generated by Central Municipal Court through additional productivity.

VIII. CONCLUSION

Bergen County taxpayers will save millions while increasing public safety by changing the County’s table of organization and placing the Bergen County Police under the direct authority of the Bergen County Sheriff.   All other divisions currently under the Department of Law and Public Safety will remain under the authority of the County Executive.

The projected range of savings is between $90.6 million and $200.1 million on personnel alone.  There is the potential to save millions more in areas unable to be included in our calculations at this time.   The Sheriff’s Department will evaluate areas of duplication that exist and all decisions related to staffing and implementation will be determined by the law enforcement.  The plan makes absolutely no mandates on staffing levels.

The proposed organizational shift will allow Bergen County to better utilize its law enforcement officers and create a more efficient unit. With limited communication and cooperation between the day-to-day operations of both departments, the benefits of moving the County Police into the Sheriff’s Department will go a long way in streamlining law enforcement.

This plan will also allow the Sheriff to gradually move all of Bergen County Law enforcement under one contract.  All current County Police Officers will finish their career under the current salary scale. All changes have been planned through the use of retirements, attrition and gradual transition. The civilianized positions such as the Academy, OEM, and Communications will be by attrition.

A Memorandum of Understanding between the Sheriff, the County Executive and the Board of Chosen Freeholders will outline staffing levels and the final Sheriff’s Table of Organization.

The Democratic Freeholders of Bergen County created a plan that looked at the long-term health of Bergen County’s finances and not one-year gimmicks while keeping in mind the most important responsibility, public safety.

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