After having the total number of police officers reduced from 78 to 77 in 2008, the Bridgewater Township Police Department has become accustomed to making due with fewer personnel.
And now, after making cuts to the municipal budget to bring the tax rate increase down to 3 percent from 6.5 percent, the council has opted to introduce an ordinance that eliminates another three police positions that are currently vacant.
“The positions have not been filled since the initiation of the ordinance, so we have adjusted our schedule to working without the three officers,” Bridgewater Township Police Chief Richard Borden said.
According to Borden, the council originally approved an ordinance in September 2008 that allowed for the funding of three more officers, but required approval before the department could hire them. Now the ordinance may be changed to eliminate the possibility of hiring those three.
“We could only hire with the approval of the mayor, and obviously due to budget constraints, we at this time have not received approval to hire any new officers,” he said. “We only have replacement officers due to retirement.”
In 2008, just before the ordinance was approved Borden said, a first lieutenant retired, bringing the total number of officers down to 77. That position, he said, was then eliminated and the person was not replaced.
Then, in 2009 Borden said, two more officers retired who were not replaced, bringing the number down to 75. The number was reduced again to 74 when an officer was laid off in 2010.
With that reduction in staff, the department has had to end the DARE program, as well as other school-based initiatives, Borden said.
“Due to budgetary constraints, we have not been authorized to hire any additional officers other than replacements, thus causing the vacating of the D.A.R.E. program and second school resource officer,” he said. “This was accomplished to maintain minimum levels of staffing in the patrol division.”
Mayor Dan Hayes said this ordinance itself has no real impact on the budget, only on the flexibility of officers in the township.
“I think that reduces the township’s flexibility, but we understood those conditions weren’t going to be funded,” he said. “If we need to put those officers back, we will ask the council again. If we find we need those positions, we will go right back to the council and ask them to change the ordinance.”
But the issue of overtime is the bigger concern for the police department because it is not predictable, Borden said.
At Monday’s township council meeting, Councilman Matthew Moench said he would be more in favor of hiring additional police officers to lessen the need for officers to work overtime, which often costs more because it goes to more senior officers.
But Borden said overtime cannot be determined in advance.
“Overtime is a dynamic situation,” he said. “Weather emergencies, serious accidents, violent crimes all factor into overtime because, in most cases other than in some weather incidents, you have no warning of the occurrence.”
In addition, officers and supervisors out of work for medical issues can factor into overtime as well, Borden said.
Sometimes grants can cover overtime costs, such as in the case of the DWI enforcements, but it will not cover those that are related to weather conditions like Hurricane Irene, Borden said.
“A homicide investigation could cause numerous hours of overtime and court appearances,” he said. “Our jurisdiction may not have a homicide investigation all year, or you could have the opposite occurring where several homicides occur in a given year.”
And in those cases, officers have to appear in court for testimony, which affects overtime, Borden said.
“A long protracted trial could add to the overtime costs during a calendar year,” he said.
For the most part, Borden said, overtime cannot be totally eliminated in a 365-day job. For example, he said, if a serious motor vehicle accident occurs on Route 22 at rush hour, day shift personnel could be required to stay at the scene for traffic control.
“If a serious crime occurs an hour prior to an officer securing for the evening, the officer may be forced to stay to secure the scene or to interview witnesses or formulate a report that must be forwarded in a certain time frame,” he said.
Because of all that, Borden said, the department attempts to manage overtime as best as possible, while understanding the budgetary constraints that prevent additional officers from being hired.
“It is our responsibility as administrators and supervisors to manage overtime as best we can,” he said. “There are definitely situations that can be managed, and other situations that are reactive and out of your control.”