By David Cruz
Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop says he’s given more time and thought to his selection of James Shea as Public Safety Director than anything else over the past three weeks. Fulop’s highest profile appointment emphasizes the new mayor’s priority on public safety.
“We all see statistics and statistics can be read in a lot of different ways,” Fulop told an afternoon press conference. “I think the first issue is to really get a baseline of where the departments are so we can understand what type of metrics and what type of progress is needed.”
Shea is a former NYPD Deputy Chief, who ran the police academy, headed up the youth and gang crime division and served on the joint terrorism task force. Former NYPD Commissioner Howard Safir’s security company led the search for the new director. Already hearing some rumbles from the unions about a cop from out of town running a new, merged police and fire department, Shea extended a hand to them this afternoon.
“We’re talking about two organizations whose members risk their lives on an every-day basis,” he said. “And when you do that you’re very cautious about working with someone until you’re comfortable with who that person is. I’m confident that we’ll get comfortable working together and if we don’t, it’ll probably be my fault more than the men and women working on the street,” Shea said.
But the unions themselves are of contrasting, if not conflicting, interests. Shea’s running a merged department had the cop union happier than the fire union today.
“He’s more than well qualified,” said PBA President Carmine Disbrow. “As far as him living in the city, I’m sure everyone’s more comfortable when you know someone but he made himself readily available 30 seconds after the press conference and we’re going to be sitting down with him in the next few days, so we’re looking forward to it, and hopefully it’s going to be a good relationship.”
But Jersey City Fire Officers Association President Peter Nowak had a different view. “Police and fire are two completely separate animals,” he said. “I mean it’s very difficult to compare one to the other, and it’s my belief and my feeling that you need to have a fire guy in charge of the fire department and a police guy in charge of the police department. We’ve tried the public safety director twice before in the history of Jersey City and it’s failed both times.”
The theme of a tale of two cities came up several times today, one side prosperous and dynamic, the other struggling and less safe. Community activist Daoud Williams said it’s a bridge that needs to be rebuilt.
“We can only hope that this was a good selection and that it’ll filter down to the rest of the command and that it will be a very responsive police department to the community and, in particular, the inner city, meaning blacks, Latinos, poor people, where there’s a world of problems,” he said.
Shea said he’s worked around communities of color for his entire police career. “Most of the commands I’ve worked with have been in minority communities,” he noted. “Every command I worked with in the Bronx. I started out as a cop in Harlem 22 years ago, and I’ve always been in the busy commands, so I look forward to doing the same thing here.”
Jersey City tried it with a public safety director before, many years ago — unsuccessfully. The mayor says day-to-day operations of the departments will still be under a police chief and a fire chief, and gauging from reactions at today’s announcement, all parties seem committed to giving the idea another try.