Three former Bergen County officials threw their support behind the Bergen County Police Department in an ongoing debate about whether or not the department should be merged with the Sheriff’s Department.
Former Bergen County Executive William “Pat” Schuber, former County Prosecutor Jay Fahy, and Joel Trella, who served both as the county Sheriff and the BCPD Chief, held a press conference at the Bergen County Law and Public Safety Institute in Mahwah Tuesday afternoon to argue against a proposed ordinance that would disband the BCPD and incorporate some of its functions into the Sheriff’s Department.
The three argued against points that have been presented by supporters of the merger — namely that it would be a cost savings to the county and that the services provided by the county’s police force are redundant or unnecessary.
Schuber and Fahy cited the consolidated police departments in Suffolk and Nassau counties on Long Island as an example of mergers resulting in increased costs for taxpayers. Schuber also said he saw no evidence of guaranteed cost savings in plans to merge the two departments.
Fahy spoke against having a publicly elected official, the county sheriff, lead Bergen’s law enforcement agency.
Residents are “lucky,” he said, that current Sheriff Michael Saudino has a law enforcement background, but he said that may not be the case with future sheriffs elected to the post.
Having an elected official who could potentially be influenced by “political battles” when making decisions would be a “slippery slope,” he said.
The three said that specialized services provided by the BCPD, like the bomb squad, hostage negotiators, and other units, are not redundant.
“That’s nonsense,” Trella said of the idea that the department provides services that can be provided by another agency in the county. The BCPD “mimic what county government is supposed to do … provide services that are too expensive and too intermittent to be provided locally,” he said, calling the “regional services” provided by the BCPD the “best bang for the [taxpayer’s] buck.”
The former sheriff also commented on the often-cited statistic that of 21 counties in New Jersey, only 2 have county police departments. He said that based on the original ordinance allowing for the creation of county police departments, only four counties in the state were eligible to have them. The makeup of Bergen makes the department “necessary,” he said.
“With over 70 [suburban] municipalities and no major cities,” Trella said, there is no other agency in Bergen poised to take over the role of the BCPD.
Two reports on the county police department, the Guidepost Report and the Creamer Report, sparked the debate on whether or not the county police should be dissolved and merged with the Sheriff’s Department. The Guidepost Report recommended the county police be downsized or eliminated, while the Creamer Report opposed a merger of the two departments.
The county freeholders voted in August 4-2 to give voters a chance to weigh in on the police merger and passed an ordinance to dissolve the 89-member department. A judge later blocked the public vote, but the freeholders are expected to take up a second-reading of the ordinance dissolving the department at an Oct. 3 meeting.
The possibility of dissolving the department has been brought up before, but has never come to fruition.