The Princeton governing body is debating negotiating a contract with Police Chief David Dudeck to retire in the fall, officials said.
“We know thing is dragging on, but this is someone who has worked hard in our community, putting in 30 years,” Administrator Bob Bruschi said of Dudeck. “We don’t want his ending here to be a sour one. We need to acknowledge the length of service he has given the community, work out what is best for him, and work out some kind of transition.”
Dudeck has been out since Feb. 27, after a meeting the previous afternoon with local officials about allegations of administrative misconduct. Captain Nick Sutter has been running the department in his absence the last five weeks.
“The discussions we are having with Dave are more related to transitioning from him being chief, to whatever he chooses to do upon retirement,” Bruschi said. “He has not made a decision whether come back or not come back. He is struggling with that.”
The police union has accused Dudeck of harassment and has threatened to sue if he does not retire. Originally the public safety committee for the town gave him until Monday, March 4 to decide whether to retire or face an investigation into the administrative charges. The deadline was then extended.
Princeton Borough and Princeton Township employees are still operating under separate sick day and vacation day policies. Officers from the Borough have unlimited sick days, so Dudeck does not have a specific number of sick days he has accrued.
“He is out on sick leave,” Bruschi said. “We did get a letter from a doctor. He has been under a doctor’s care for at least 30 days.”
The governing body is not considering offering Dudeck a traditional separation package with any kind of severance payment.
“Some of the terms bounced back and forth in the press about buyouts are not what we are looking to do,” Bruschi said.”We are talking to Dave about what his options are if he chooses not to come back. What we have talked about is what option he has available to him that is the best thing for him.”
As of October 1, Dudeck will have worked on the police force for 30 years. His salary in 2011 was $164,780, according to state pension records. Officials are weighing whether to offer him a contract that allows him to remain out on leave and then retire in the fall after he reaches the 30-year mark, which would mean an increase in his pension. The union would agree to drop its claims against him if he agrees to retire. Dudeck would still have to decide whether to accept any offer made to him or fight the charges.
The allegations against Dudeck are spelled out in a narrative that was submitted to the town’s public safety committee. The narrative details about 22 incidents since 2010 when Dudeck allegedly used inappropriate language, which some have called “locker room language”, made allegedly inappropriate jokes, or made allegedly inappropriate gestures when talking to officers. The narrative of each incident lists all the witnesses who were present when Dudeck made the allegedly inappropriate comments. It does not single out individual complainants, however. The officers witnessing the incidents were all or almost all Borough officers, sources said.
No complaints for harassment were filed against Dudeck during his tenure as chief of the Princeton Borough Police Department, or during his 29-year tenure on the Princeton Borough Police Force. Officers allegedly were too intimidated to come forward earlier. The Borough did have a process for making complaints about any kind of harassment, and conducted an anonymous survey twice a year about harassment. The consolidated Princeton police department has a similar policy. What constitutes harassment and sexual harassment, and the complaint process, are outlined in the police department’s standard operating procedures (see below).
The case was referred to the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, which is standard procedure when any allegations are made against a police chief. The police department’s internal affairs officer can not investigate the claims because it would be a conflict of interest.
The allegations surfaced less than two months after consolidation.
A longtime football coach at the Hun School, Dudeck became chief of the Borough in 2009. He succeeded Anthony Federico, who died suddenly while on vacation in Maine.
In the summer of 2012, Dudeck was named the police chief for the consolidated Princeton, but did not officially become the chief of the united town until Jan. 1.
Bruschi said citizens should not worry about the operation of the police department in Dudeck’s absence.
“We are really in a great place. We have a lot of very talented people. One of them downstairs in the police department right now is holding everything together,” Bruschi said. “From an operations standpoint, everyone is doing a great job. But everyone wants closure of course.”