A police welfare fund created to purchase equipment for the Princeton Township Police Department and to be disbursed for the good of the department has also been used to pay for food and alcohol at parties celebrating police promotions and retirements over the last few years, a review of public records shows.
This May, $3,152 was spent from the police welfare fund to buy food and alcohol for 50 people at the Chickie’s and Pete’s at the PARX Casino in Bensalem, Pa. for a retirement party for Chief Robert Buchanan. Another $146.95 was spent from the fund to buy Buchanan a Seiko watch and $105 was spent on a cake.
Records for the fund, which is administered by a committee comprised of the chief and four other police officers, were obtained by Planet Princeton through the state’s Open Public Records Act. Residents, a foundation and businesses have made donations to the fund over the years. The police department also deposits cash into the fund from a police department soda machine. A few officers had access to Visa cards to make purchases from the fund, and checks were written from the fund to pay for expenses.
Some officers have criticized the way the fund has been used, arguing that the funds are meant to be spent on police equipment or for police who are injured or who face other emergencies. They also claim the goal has been to spend the fund down as far as possible before the department is consolidated with the Princeton Borough Police.
In February, one officer made a suggestion to Buchanan that the department use the money to establish a K-9 program.
“Chief, I know that there have been a lot of ideas thrown around in regards to what we should do with the Welfare Account. So I figured I would throw in my two cents,” wrote one officer to Buchanan in a February email.
“As much as I love to party (and you know that I do), I would hate to just spend all the funds on festivities like that,” the officer wrote. “I would much rather use the money toward something that actually helps the good and welfare of the officers of the police department now, and in the future as well.”
A Long History
Acting Chief Chris Morgan defends how the fund has been used, saying it has benefited every member of the police department for several decades and that the manner in which the funds were used has never been improper.
“The welfare fund has been in existence since the 1970s. The purpose of it has always been for the good and welfare of all members of the police department,” Morgan wrote in an email exchange with Planet Princeton. “None of the donations made to the welfare fund have ever been solicited by any member of the police department. Recently, we have used the fund to celebrate the retirement of officers as well as the hiring of new officers.”
Morgan said the welfare fund committee has been in existence for many years to provide oversight of the fund, and that the committee is made up of the men and women of the police department. Anyone from the police department can request to be a part of the committee, he said, and no funds are used from the welfare fund without the approval of the committee.
“All members of the police department, sworn and civilian, have been invited to participate in all activities supported by the welfare fund,” he said.
For someone to suggest that the fund has only been used for select members or that the funds have been used improperly is irresponsible.”
Morgan added that during the department’s accreditation process, the welfare fund and its use were codified in a written directive. During preparation for consolidation, it was brought to his attention that the manner in which the welfare fund functions should be revised., he said. “Subsequently, the fund has been placed under the name of the Township of Princeton,” Morgan said.
According to Township Acting Business Administrator Kathy Monzo, the fund has been in existence since 1975, when an officer opened the account using his social security number. The account was never overseen by the Township or was ever part of any Township audit. It was treated like a separate account, and only audited internally within the police department by the chief or his designee. Most officials outside the department were not even aware of its existence, although the procedures for managing the fund were spelled out in a policy as a result of the accreditation process a few years ago. The Rodgers Group, a firm that consulted on the merger of policies and procedures for the Princeton police departments, flagged the welfare fund as “unique to Princeton Township” when the firm reviewed department’s policies this summer.
Fund Reaches High Point in 2009
In 2009, the welfare fund topped $35,000, thanks to large donations from a foundation. By the time the bank account for the fund was closed out in late August, the fund was down to $7,415. The fund was closed out on Aug. 23, a week after Planet Princeton filed a public records request to inspect the fund records. The fund is now overseen by the township.
A Planet Princeton review of records dating back to the mid 1990s show that traditionally, the fund often has been used to cover expenses that police unions often cover in other police departments, or that officers pay for out of their own pockets, like buying sympathy flowers for the funerals for officers or their family members, or making donations to Special Olympics, Toys for Tots, and other charity organizations.
The fund was used to stock the police department with coffee, creamer, and a daily newspaper. It was also used to give Christmas bonuses to civilian police department employees, and to buy Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner for patrol members who had to work on the holidays. Several thousands of dollars have also been used to buy gym and biking equipment.
Over the history of the fund, money was used occasionally to pay for awards luncheons or other social events. Up until 2007 though, welfare fund records show that officers reimbursed all or a portion of their costs, and sometimes the police union kicked in money. Starting about six years ago, the practice changed, and receptions and retirement parties were paid for without reimbursement. In January of 2011, more than $4,000 was spent from the fund to celebrate Buchanan being named the new chief, with $2,178 spent at McCaffrey’s and $2,000 at Wildflowers, according to records. This January, $716 was spent for drinks at Houlihan’s in Lawrence to celebrate the swearing in of new officers, and in June, another $668 was spent at Houlihan’s to celebrate an officer’s retirement.
More than $1,500 was spent for polo shirts in September of 2011, but no receipt was found in the records. Funds were also used to buy $1,280 worth of challenge coins in 2011, and $500 in challenge coins in 2012. Challenge coins, a military tradition, bear an organization’s insignia and are carried by members. Traditionally they are given to prove membership when challenged, and to enhance morale. The 2011 challenge coins had Buchanan’s name engraved on them.
The challenge coin tradition is meant to build morale. Traditionally members are challenged to prove they are carrying their coins. The challenge, which can be made at any time, begins with the challenger drawing his coin, and placing the coin on a table or bar. Everyone must produce the coin, and anyone failing to do so must buy a round of drinks for the group. Should everyone challenged be able to produce their coin, the challenger must buy a round of drinks for the group. It is unclear how the coins have been used in the Township Police Department, and not all officers are in possession of the coins. Morgan did not address the issue in response to questions from Planet Princeton.
Donors Large and Small
The fund received donations from the Matthews Foundation, which made a donation annually for several years, with amounts ranging from $10,000 to $2,500. Jasna Polana also donated $5,000 to the fund, according to records. Other organizations and individuals donated money, including former Township Mayor Jim Floyd, who is listed as donating $250 to the fund in January of 2009, for example. Cash deposits ranging from a few hundred dollars to more than a thousand dollars from the police department soda machine were also deposited into the fund several times a year, according to records.
Donors interviewed by Planet Princeton said they made contributions for general purposes, and did not earmark their donations for specific items. One donor said he donated as a way to say thank you after the police department provided tremendous help to his family. The donor assumed the money was for purchasing equipment, but said the gift was unrestricted. Asked what he thought about money being spent for parties, he said, “I wouldn’t be very happy about it.”
Floyd said he was under the impression he was donating to the PBA, not a police welfare fund. “I’m pretty certain of it,” he said.Regardless, it doesn’t seem quite right to spend it that way.”