Is the Port Authority Police Department Necessary?

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

The Port Authority has a police department of nearly 2,000 officers. They patrol the bridges and tunnels, the ports and airports, some of the most high-profile facilities in the region.

Former New Jersey State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff touched a nerve recently with an op-ed suggesting maybe it’s time to do away with the Port Authority Police.

“What I’m calling for is an independent public study of the feasibility of perhaps disbanding the Port Authority Police and replacing it with a combination of local and state police resources, perhaps along with some private security,” Sidamon-Eristoff said.

Sidamon-Eristoff suggests the NYPD and the New Jersey State Police could perform the tasks and be just as effective, if not more so.

“Just in recent years, for example, there have been internal studies that concluded that the PAPD was essentially dysfunctional,” he said.

At the headquarters of the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association in Englewood Cliffs the idea is not sitting well.

PBA President Paul Nunziato says his members are highly trained, highly specialized and high-performing.

“The Port Authority Police have been out there on the front lines of terrorism doing our job every day. We offer seamless policing on all our facilities. We move hundreds of millions of passengers a year and part of us providing security and safety is effectively knowing how to move hundreds of millions of people a year,” Nunziato said.

Nunziato says any dysfunction in the Port Authority Police Department stems from the constant interference of Port Authority executives, who he believes leak materials to the press that make the police look bad so as to soften them up for the next round of contract negotiations.

“If you swam in the sewer of the Port Authority as long as I have, you would know it was clearly politics,” he said.

How is it a sewer? Nunziato answered, “The constant in-fighting between New York and New Jersey, it’s been going on for quite some time and it’s ballooned to epidemic proportions.”

The Port Authority spends about $650 million a year on its police force. That’s twice as much as it currently plans to spend annually on a new bus terminal.

But Sidamon-Eristoff says his argument is not really about saving money. He points to a recent study from the right-leaning Manhattan Institute entitled “The New York Police Force That Doesn’t Work.”

He said, “The City Journal article, which was based on extensive research, concluded that the Port Authority Police Department is ‘dysfunctional, poorly managed, over compensated and hamstrung by work rules.’ Despite its high cost, the Port Authority Police Department may not be up to the task of fulfilling its critical mission. And that’s serious. That’s serious for the entire region.”

Nunziato says that’s ridiculous, as is the idea that there are savings to be had.

“Where’s your cost-effectiveness and efficiency if you have to replace our 2,000 police officers with a combination of a thousand police officers on each side of the river to do what we’re doing effectively?” Nunziato asked. “Where is the savings to the public?”

He points to all the specialties they do: aircraft rescue firefighting, active shooter, George Washington Bridge suicide jumpers.

Sidamon-Eristoff seems certain other police agencies could do the job.

“You can’t tell me that the Port Authority Police Department is better trained than the NYPD in protecting critical assets and potential targets of terrorism in New York City. I just don’t believe it,” Sidamon-Eristoff said.

At this point, the idea of eliminating the Port Authority Police Department is just an academic discussion. Sidamon-Eristoff believes it’s one worth having. The PBA is willing, but angry.

“We’re open for any discussion, but the cops at the Port Authority are doing their jobs properly and people out there that have taken free shots at our members, it’s totally inappropriate and I’m quite annoyed with it,” Nunziato said.

The conversation has started.