It has been a rough couple of years for the Jersey City Police Department, which has suffered a number of very public black eyes. You remember the incident where city police were taped kicking a man who was on fire. Turns out, he was an innocent victim. The most recent blemish on the department is the arrest of 11 officers – most from the north district – for corrupting the city’s off-duty jobs program. Even the former police chief pleaded guilty in the case, retiring with a city pension just months before pleading. Wednesday, Mayor Steven Fulop said the city has alerted the FBI that it is ending the jobs program.
“The first phase will end the off-duty program for jobs involving private citizens, trucks, delivery records and licensed premises of the Jersey City Housing Authority,” announced Fulop. “All other off-duty assignments, specifically those involving large construction sites and work by utilities impacting vehicular traffic will be ended within six months to one year. We’re going to target six months on that.”
As for what’s going replace the current system, the mayor and the public safety director say, as of right now, they’re not entirely sure.
“We’re making a commitment to having those answers within six months to a year. Quite frankly, some of it can be replaced with nothing,” said Public Safety Director James Shea.
The mayor said other options include hiring local residents to replace cops on low-impact projects and working out arrangements with utility providers. The mayor says the important thing is to focus cops on cop work, not off-duty, overtime gigs that had some officers doubling and tripling their salaries.
“There are issues, clearly, with regard to priority on this, so we think we’re making the responsible decision on this,” the mayor suggested.
“Nobody wants corruption, not the police officers, not the mayor, so there are ways to solve these problems. Ending it, is to me, you’re taking 100 to 150 police officers off the streets, at no cost to the taxpayers. I can’t even quantify how much crime is deterred by having 150 more officers on the street,” said Carmine Disbrow, president of the Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association.
The accumulation of bad news, the off-duty overtime scandal just the latest, have some questioning whether the city’s public safety director, who was just reappointed unanimously by the city council, deserved that vote of confidence.
“Each of those instances, we’ve acted aggressively on them,” said Fulop. “Most of the investigations that have happened have been a byproduct of us being proactive on that front.”
“There’s a few bad apples spoiling the bunch here and we don’t want to leave the men and women, particularly all the new hires that we’ve brought in, feeling like maybe they made the wrong choice in their careers,” added City Council President Rolando Lavarro. “We want to make sure to validate the fact that their service is welcomed here in Jersey City.”
The mayor says reform is always messy and admits that residents should expect more bad news, and possibly more indictments, to come from this scandal before it’s all done with.