With consolidation less than seven months away and a new chief for the united Princeton possibly chosen as early as next month, the Princeton Township Committee voted unanimously Monday night to appoint Lt. Christopher Morgan as acting Township police chief.
Morgan will not receive extra pay for the promotion, but officials hope the move will provide a clear command structure and also bump him up in the leadership ranks in the consolidated police force so that the Township is represented at the top of the command structure.
“The police department is as close to being military organization as one can find in civilian life, and a military organization must have a commanding officer,” Township Committeeman Bernie Miller said. “Lt. Morgan has served admirably as senior officer in charge since March 30. The title reflects neither the responsibility nor the authority of the job he is performing. With this fact in mind, we need to reestablish the command structure that is understood within and outside the police department.”
Committeewoman Sue Nemeth said calling Morgan “officer in charge” is a title that is “jargon” and might be unclear to residents.
Some Borough Council members have expressed opposition to the promotion given that the two municipalities are in the midst of consolidating. Last Friday the public safety committee of the joint transition task force voted 3-2 to oppose the move and recommended that a new chief be chosen for the joint police department by June 15.
Borough Councilman Roger Martindell called the Township Committee’s concerns parochial last week and accused Township Officials of promoting a “Township” versus “Borough” mentality in staffing the new Princeton instead of focusing on which employees would be best suited for leadership positions in the new Princeton.
“I’m proud that we are overcoming the misplaced humiliation and criticism,” Township Committeeman Lance Liverman said Monday night. “We have a duty and an oath to protect our citizens. We cannot turn back from the police. This is not by any means a political ploy not a tit for tat. It’s not political grandstanding. This will add a missing link to a fine police department.”
Township Committeewoman Liz Lempert said she felt strongly that promoting Morgan was the right thing to do. She said she received a letter from a Borough council member Monday asking her to reject the promotion.
“It is important that we be seen from inside and outside of the department as having a full department with a chief,” Lempert said. “This is a promotion in title, not paycheck. There is no extra cost to the taxpayers. Having an acting chief has the added benefit of insuring we have leaders from both the Township and Borough forces. Some argue it will take away from a unified team. I strongly disagree. The path to unity is not achieved by shutting out one side or the other. It is in working together.”
Lempert argued that the two police departments cover very different territory and that it is in the community’s interest to have a Township officer in the top leadership because of that.
“The idea that the consolidated police force would be one where upper management is totally unrepresentative, with no experience in the new territory, where they don’t know half the people — that suggestion is acceptable. That sounds parochial to me. A balanced force is in the interest of the entire community.”
Township Resident and Consolidation Commission Member Carol Golden voiced support for the decision.
“I feel strongly that in new consolidated Princeton, the police department should have representation at the highest levels from both the Borough and the Township,” she said. “It’s going to be a great move for Princeton.”