By Briana Vannozzi
Without State Police coverage, dozens of rural communities could face financial hardship.
“Because we’re so rural and remote, we can’t afford or don’t have the tax base to be able to handle several million dollars more in our budgets,” said Buena Vista Township Mayor Chuck Chiarello.
With only 7,500 residents in over 42 square miles, Buena Vista Township in western Atlantic County is one example of nearly 100 towns where the state police department is their local police department.
“Buena Vista Township is 90 percent restricted by Pinelands regulations. It takes 3.2 acres to build a house in our community and we will never have a major shopping center, we will never have any corporate ratables,” Chiarello said.
Chiarello says a feasibility study done in 1992 concluded it would cost about $2 million to put a force together at the time.
“And our entire budget is about $4.5 million,” he said.
“Currently we cover 73 municipalities full time that don’t have any of their own police departments and we cover 13 municipalities part time,” he said.
Callahan explains the original charter for the State Police dating back to 1921 was to provide service for those remote areas.
“If someone called 911 at 2 a.m. and they didn’t have us, they would obviously be waiting a very long time and whether that was a burglary call or a bear in the garage call,” said New Jersey State Police Lt. Col. Patrick Callahan.
This is an issue that comes up every several years when cash-strapped municipalities look for ways to save money, and point to their neighbors for receiving a free service — which local and state officials point out is anything but free.
Out of a roughly $260 million State Police budget, it costs the department a little over $53 million a year to provide the services. The money comes from the general fund and just about every taxpayer contributes in some way.
“There’s a litany of services that we provide above and beyond your typical rural policing or law enforcement services that are offered upon the requests of even communities that have their full time police departments,” Callahan said.
Troop A in Buena Vista covers most of southern New Jersey.
The rest of the field operations are divided among the most and least populous areas of the state. Troop B is in the north, C covers central and D is split between the Turnpike and Parkway. There are 2,655 total New Jersey state troopers and roughly 1,000 respond to calls from the road stations. 410 are assigned to troop A alone.
In 2008, Mayor Chiarello was part of a group that successfully fought a state effort to require towns to pay for State Police.
“It doesn’t stop the state from trying again and if we have to go back to the council on local mandates, I’m sure the towns will be waiting in line to do that,” Chiarello said.
He and his neighbors just hope it doesn’t come to that.