Princeton Borough Police and Princeton Township police officers will continue to patrol the new Princeton in the same cars they do now, with the separate Township and Borough colors and designs, after consolidation next year.
The governing bodies of both Princetons unanimously voted last night not to approve a request by Borough Administrator Bob Bruschi to spend about $26,000 to repaint and put new decals on 13 police cars for the combined police force.
“This is one of the true marks of consolidation, that the police departments will be functioning as a single unit,” Bruschi said. “This will help with the feeling of unity and be another symbol that the two police forces are all part of the same department now.”
Bruschi said the plan was to paint 13 police cars based on certain mileage thresholds, and phase in the new color scheme over a longer period. The police fleet would be reduced by seven cars, and those cars would be repurposed for administrative functions or auctioned off at a municipal surplus auction, Bruschi said. The new police force needs between 13 and 16 marked cars. The rest of the fleet would be unmarked cars and would be painted black or blue.
The Borough budgeted $60,000 for new police cars this year and the Township budgeted $90,000, but did not buy new cars because of consolidation, Bruschi said. “We’d like for you to consider this as an alternative approach so we can move forward,” he told elected officials.
But Princeton Township Mayor Chad Goerner said he and other members of the joint Borough and Township finance committee met with representatives from the State Department of Community Affairs Friday to review transition costs and discuss logistics regarding reimbursement and what has been spent so far, and the state was not supportive of the plan.
“One of the items the state Department of Community Affairs expressed concerns about is the repainting of police cars,” Goerner said. “I do understand and respect the approach of having unity in the police department, but from my perspective and the DCA perspective, we need to get by with what we have. I think the community recognizes both cars. It is an unnecessary expense and we will not be able to gain reimbursement.”
“I understand the point about unity, but there is unity in the community about belt tightening,” Borough Councilwoman Heather Howard said. “This is an important symbol to the community, that we are making do with what we have.”
Borough Mayor Yina Moore questioned whether there could be any legal issues if the decals on the cars are not changed to match.
” It’s hard to imagine the authority of the police is derived from what is on the car,” Howard said.
“We could put duct tape over the word township on the Township police cars,” Borough Councilman Roger Martindell said.
Township Committeeman Lance Liverman suggested that the repainting could possibly be done if a private citizen is willing to donate the money.
“That’s money that could go to food banks and meet other needs in the community,” Howard said. “This is an opportunity to send a signal to the community and state, and to honor our commitment that we are scrubbing every transition cost, and approving only the necessary ones.”