A consultant tonight urged the Princeton governing body to make hiring a permanent leader for the police department a top priority, and recommended that the town promote a chief from within the ranks rather than creating a civilian public safety director position.
Frank Rodgers, head of the Rodgers Consulting group and a former deputy superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, told the council at a special meeting and in a letter sent to municipal officials this afternoon that the stability of leadership in the department tops the list for recommendations by the group, and said permanent leadership is critical to finalizing the transformation of the merged Princeton Borough and Princeton Township police departments.
“We recommend the promotion of member of the organization rather than bringing in a separate public safety director or police director,” Rodgers said. “Hiring a public safety director would squander the victory you have achieved in consolidation, upset the apple cart, and not add any value.”
Rodgers praised the leadership of Capt. Nick Sutter, who has been running the police department since late February when former chief David Dueck was put on leave after accusations surfaced that he verbally harassed some officers. Dudeck retired in exchange for the police union agreeing not to file charges against him. After he retired, seven officers filed a suit alleging sexual harassment and discrimination.
“The department has coalesced around the current leadership,” Rodgers said. “Our belief is that attempting to interject a police director is simply unnecessary and will erode much of the progress.”
The audit addresses issues regarding how the police department functions and looks at personnel issues, but it does not address the size of the police department and how many police officers the town should have. The issue of the size of the department is being looked at separately.
The Princeton Borough Police, Princeton Township Police, and the merged department have faced major internal problems in recent years. A lawsuit is pending regarding the termination of two former Princeton Township police officers. The officers were forced to resign when Chief Mark Emann was removed as chief because he allegedly accepted a rifle and a revolver as gifts from a gun dealer when trading in police department firearms for new department weapons.
Rodgers praised the police department, said the officers were very transparent during the study, and that the department is healthy. He said other police departments should emulate the Princeton Police Department.
But some officials questioned the assessment given problems in recent years.
“Change is something we should probably make,” Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller said, suggesting that the governing body seek other opinions about the structure of the department leadership.
“You’ve done nothing but change over the last year,” Rodgers said. “What you do not need is more change. You’ve had a record of success for the last 12 months. This does not exist in most communities I have the opportunity to collaborate with. There is a unique level of professionalism in this department.”
But Crumiller, who is open to the idea of hiring a civilian public safety director, said she is still concerned given recent history.
“Every chief over last five years or so, or even longer, in both municipalities has left under less than ideal circumstances, whether it be a buy out, or making deals that cost the taxpayers a lot of money.”
Rodgers said that history is not part of his group’s review.
“It is not material to anything we did here, and we are not prepared to speak to any of that,” Rodgers said.
Resident Jan Weinberg asked the Rodgers Group to comment on the relationship between the town administrator and the police department. The administrator oversees the department.
“From my interactions with the administrator, whether it has been during Dudeck’s time or now, Ive found it to be a good collaborative relationship,” Rodgers said. “I’ve never seen a sense of acrimony. It seemed to be a very supportive relationship.”
The Rodgers Group, a public safety consulting firm, was hired by the town this summer to conduct an audit of the police department in the wake of consolidation and the most recent issues with Dudeck. Both Princetons previously used the firm for consulting work. There was not competitive bidding process or selection process when the town selected the firm. The contract for the audit was $11,495 plus fees for holding focus groups.
A complete list of the recommendations in the report:
– Stability of leadership within the department has to be established. There were strong feelings among officers who were interviewed that the head of the agency should be a chief of police. If the governing body chooses to go in another direction, swift and effective communication with organizational members will be required to mitigate the impact of further change to the agency which has operated with uncertainty for more than two years.
– Team analysis and individual coaching sessions will allow the agency to leverage information that has been obtained during this assessment and potentially alleviate conflicts that may be occurring in different work groups.
– The organizational culture assessment should be repeated at one, three and five year intervals in order to track the progress of the department.
– Consolidation has raised the anxiety of the agency workforce. This can be mitigated by regular communication of goals and objectives and positively reinforcing contributions members make toward them.
– Formal and informal internal communication strategies should be developed that support and reinforce organizational priorities.
– Leaders have to ensure that people receive the support and information they need to be effective in an ever-changing environment.
– To the degree possible, leaders have to isolate indecision or conflict that is occurring outside the control of the organization that may occur that may impact the organization. By doing so they can potentially insulate the emotions of department members from the collateral issues and anxiety that result from that indecision or conflict.
– Provide stability and detailed planning through the development of a long-term organizational strategic plan that provides the organization with a road map for success at one, three and five year intervals. Forecasting future events and initiatives will benefit the members who are more contemplative and deliberate which are personality traits shared by the majority of the agency’s workforce.
– Organizational initiatives and programs should be established that support the organization’s desire to provide services the community desires.
– A purposeful and formalized leadership and mentoring program should be established to account for potential attrition of seasoned personnel.
– Supervision, team building, motivation and effective communication training programs should be provided so that a foundation of competency can be established for officers and detectives who may have to step into roles that are vacated through retirements. Planning in this fashion will prepare the department by benefiting from the knowledge and experience of seasoned officers before they leave the department.
– Internal systems that reward officer performance in areas that support organizational priorities and customer service should be developed.
– Promoting programs and initiatives where officers are better engaged in the community will build camaraderie internally, and demonstrate that community needs are a priority to the department. There is a strong belief among TRG Team members that various community groups would enjoy an opportunity to frame events to meet this goal.
The full report is available on the town’s website.
Mayor Liz Lempert said the police department is one of the greatest successes of consolidation.
Councilman Lance Liverman praised the report and the police department and said the department has been wrongly tainted by many people recently.
“You know what they say about a few bad apples,” he said. “It is full of great people.”