The union representing Princeton Township police officers has sent a letter to residents claiming that consolidation would allegedly cut police services and harm public safety, a claim officials say is untrue.
“While we respect the Consolidation Commission’s efforts to research this topic, we believe that the cost savings are minimal while the negative impact on services and public safety will be significant,” reads the letter signed by the Princeton Township Police Department PBA 387.
The union says savings from consolidation comes at the price of losing nine officers. The consolidation commission has proposed a gradual reduction in the force through attrition that would shrink the force from 60 to 51 officers.
“According to national standards, a consolidated Princeton should have a police department of a minimum of 66 officers,” reads the union letter.
The union says the daily amount paid by each taxpayer for police services is $2 per per day, or the price of a Starbucks Grande Coffee. The union claims police costs would increase by 30 percent in a consolidated Princeton, while services would allegedly decline.
There would be a 50 percent reduction in dispatch services during daytime hours, the union claims, with three or four dispatchers reduced to two dispatchers answering emergency and non-emergency calls. The union also argues that more police resources would be dedicated to the downtown district. Township neighborhoods would lose the ability to address neighborhood speeding complaints, have less officers to patrol neighborhoods and conduct follow-up and investigative services, and the changes would result in slower response times to calls for service, the union claims.
Police union members also claim that transition costs for the police department alone will be significantly higher than reported in the commission’s report.
Township Mayor Chad Goerner said he respects the police department, but he and other officials must answer to the residents of Princeton Township.
“I can understand that our force is concerned about staff reductions, that is why it was important that we performed this review with independent consultants while at the same time gathering input from the two municipal police chiefs,” Goerner said. “The consolidation commission has called for a smaller, yet effective and efficient force under a consolidated municipality. It is understandable staffing reductions can generate fear in the department and those fears can be projected in the forms of union letters, and studies.”
Goerner said the figures in the PBA letter that contradict the consolidation commission’s report come from a study that was performed for the police union pro bono by the New Jersey Police Officers Association.
But Goerner said the consolidation commission developed its study with the help of a police consultant who previously worked for the township police, revising the police department’s policy manual in 2006.
“The commission has done an incredible job identifying ways to collectively restructure the way in which we deliver services, including police services, to a combined community for a significantly lower cost, eliminating redundancies and improving service levels,” Goerner said. “Furthermore, our goal would be to reduce staffing levels through retirements. In Princeton Township, we have five members of the force who are eligible for full retirement benefits at the time of consolidation, and three of them could retire with full medical benefits.”
Goerner said the township has a track record of managing staff reductions through attrition or retirement. A 2005 report called for a reduction in the township police force. “The department certainly was not in favor of those reductions at the time but we accomplished that,” Goerner said. “That very report also called for a joint dispatch service. It wasn’t just our current report that has called for this.”
Several municipalities are considering running a joint dispatch service to save money and be more efficient, and Mercer County officials have also been looking in to the possibility of countywide dispatch.
Officials say the merged department would need less top brass, thus more officers would be deployed to do daily police work on the streets.
Some officials have also argued that the officers from Princeton University’s public safety department should be factored in when considering the total number of officers in Princeton.
In both the borough and the township, the police department is the largest expense in the municipal budget – $3.5 million in the borough and $3.8 million in the township. Emergency dispatch costs are separate from those budgets. The dispatch budget in the borough is about $420,000 and about $415,000 in the township.
“Our fixed costs continue to rise at rates higher than inflation, driven by state pension costs and health care costs, all while we operate under the constraints of a two-percent municipal cap,” Goerner said. “A consolidated police department will deliver services more effectively and at a lower cost to our community. And in times of emergency, a consolidated department will unify our resources, create a single dispatch center to eliminate confusion and create a single line of command in emergency response.”