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Judge blocks Cliffside Park mayor, council from seizing authority from police chief

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

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A judge in Paterson has restrained Cliffside Park Mayor Gerry Calabrese and the borough council from taking authority from Police Chief Donald Keane to appoint detectives and determine his replacement when he’s away from the job.

The preliminary injunction issued by Superior Court Judge Thomas Brogan, which took effect Friday, freezes an ordinance approved by the council last month that wrested authority from the chief in assigning officers to the detective bureau and for appointing the department’s interim commanding officer when he is out sick or on vacation.

Brogan said he will hold a hearing next month to determine whether the injunction should be made permanent. A copy of his order can be viewed below.

Borough spokesman Bill Maer said the governing body believes it has the authority to take such steps as a way of making police more accountable and operations more efficient.

However, a lawyer for Keane said the measure approved by the council is illegal under a state law governing the powers of police chiefs.

“The ordinance is precisely the sort of political interference from a political official that the statute was designed to prevent,” said attorney Vito Gagliardi Jr.

Case law doesn’t support that argument, he added.

SEE: Cliffside Park council takes power to assign detectives

“They can promote who they want — that’s their authority,” said Raymond Hayducka, the immediate past president of and spokesman for the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police. “The big problem is when you start telling the chief who to assign and where to assign them.

“Not only is it bad business. It’s bad politics,” he told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “It’s also illegal.”

Although the complaint against the borough, Calabrese and all six council members was filed in Hackensack, it was transferred it to Passaic County to avoid a potential conflict: Councilwoman Dana Martinotti’s husband is a Superior Court judge in Bergen County.

The ordinance designates the deputy chief as the officer to report to the Mayor and Council any time Keane is absent for any reason. But the provision drawing the most heat creates a new detective position that the council essentially controls.

“The Mayor with the consent [of] the Council may permanently designate as a permanent title ‘Appointed Detective’ to no more than three ranking officers,” the measure says.

Hayducka said this clearly violates state law, which specifies that police chiefs in New Jersey hold the authority to “prescribe the duties and assignments of all subordinates and other personnel.”

“A detective position is an assignment, not a promotion,” said Hayducka, who is the South Brunswick police chief. “By statute, council members cannot assign officers to particular positions.”

Keane, a 34-year veteran who is the current president of the Bergen County Police Chiefs Association, has declined comment while the issue is pending.

“I just want them to let me run a good department,” he told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

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