It will now be up to Somerset County’s 21 municipalities to decide whether they want to start a countywide police department.
Freeholder Mark Caliguire, speaking at a meeting Thursday night where a feasibility study on the consolidation was unveiled, said municipalities have until Aug. 1 to decide whether they would be interested in pursuing a consolidation.
“Do what you need to do,” Caliguire told the municipal and police officials in the auditorium of Somerset County Vocational-Technical High School in Bridgewater.
Once the municipalities indicate their interest, a transition team will be created under the leadership of Dr. Richard Celeste, director of the Somerset County Police Academy.
The feasibility study showed that a consolidated police department would save county taxpayers $44 million over the next 10 years.
But that may be a “conservative” figure, said Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R- 16th District) who sparked the consolidation study during his term as freeholder. The savings could range up to $100 million over the next decade, he said.
Ciattarelli emphasized however that municipalities should consider not only the quantitative aspects of a possible consolidation, but also the “qualitative” aspects.
“We’re going to take 19 great departments and do everything better,” the assemblyman said, adding that looking at consolidation “strictly from a quantitative analysis is a disservice.”
Savings for Somerset County municipalities over a 10-year period range from $338,770 in Peapack-Gladstone to $8.6 million in Franklin. Savings for other towns include Far Hills, $526,513; Bedminster, $804,983; Bernardsville, $983,417; Warren, $1.3 million; Bernards, $1.4 million; Green Brook, $1.6 million; Watchung, $2.5 million; Hillsborough, $3.7 million and Bridgewater, $4.4 million.
The county now has 19 police departments with 594 officers. The feasibility study found that the “optimal” number of police officers is 606 with 62 civilian employees, 50 less than present. Savings will be realized by reducing the number of superior officers by 43 through attrition so that the ratio of superior officers to patrol officers is increased. The study also forsees more patrol officers, meaning “more boots on the ground,” said Somerset County Prosecutor Geoffrey Soriano, chairman of the task force that authored the study. No officers will lose their jobs.
The countywide police department would be divided into five precincts:
Precinct 1: Bedminster, Bernards, Bernardsville, Peapack-Gladstone and Far Hills (46,311 residents, 5.35 crimes per 1,000 residents).
Precinct 2: Green Brook, North Plainfield, Warren and Watchung (50,981 residents, 22.94 crimes per 1,000 residents).
Precinct 3: Branchburg, Bridgewater, Raritan, Somerville and Bound Brook (90,089 residents, 16.5 crimes per 1,000 residents).
Precinct 4: Hillsborough, Manville, Millstone, Montgomery and Rocky Hill (74,742 residents, 8.89 crimes per 1,000 residents.).
Precinct 5: Franklin and South Bound Brook (65,555 residents, 15.62 crimes per 1,000 ratios.).
Overall, that works out to 1.8 officers per 1,000 residents in the county’s 305.5 square miles. The county’s crime rate is 14.2 crimes per 1,000 residents.
In a preliminary study released in December 2010, consultant Thomas Bank presented a three-precinct plan, but task force members, in reviewing the emergency response to Hurricane Irene in August 2011, developed the five-precinct plan based on geographic factors, highways and day-time population spikes, Soriano said.
The study calls for the following manpower allocation: Precinct 1: 81 officers; Precinct 2: 133 officers; Precinct 3: 133 officers; Precinct 4: 97 officers; Precinct 5: 125 officers. The study also proposes patrol areas within the precincts.
At headquarters, which will be located centrally in the county in or near Somerville, will be 37 officers.
A subcommittee of the task force found that none of the existing police facilities in Precinct 1 could not house precinct headquarters and more study is needed, including research into a long-term lease of a vacant building near an exit of Route 78 or 287.
Precinct 2 would have the Watchung Police Headquarters as its primary headquarters with the Warren Police Headquarters serving as a secondary location.
A portion of the current North Plainfield Police Headquarters would be used as a satellite facility open 24 hours a day. Under that scenario, municipal would be moved out of Watchung to Green Brook, which would host court for all four municipalities.
Precinct 3 would be headquartered at the current Bridgewater facility, with secondary facilities in Somerville and Raritan.
Headquarters for Precinct 4 would be in Hillsborough with Manville serving as a secondary location.
Precinct 5 would utilize the present Franklin headquarters.
A countywide police department would operate as a “joint meeting” similar to a regional sewer authority, “A countywide department polices the county, but is not run by the county,” said Montgomery Township Administrator Donato Nieman.
Each participating municipality would have one representative and one alternate to the joint meeting. An executive board would have one representative from each precinct.
William Stahl, a task force member and director of the county’s Department of Health and Public Safety, said one of the keys to the consolidation would be the development of a GPS unit which would allow for the dispatch of a patrol car nearest to a call. More municipalities are already joining the current countywide dispatch system
North Plainfield Police Chief William Parenti, another task force member, said a countywide manual on policies and procedures could be developed. Soriano said any transition would consider whether individual practices within municipalities would be followed, like Watchung’s practice of police cars following school buses, Bernardsville officers stationed on the train station platform or Somerville officers on foot patrol on Main Street.
William Horton, a task force member and mayor of Peapack-Gladstone, outlined the steps needed to work with the current PBA contracts and suggested a two-tier system for current officers and new hires. Current officers would not lose their seniority, tenure or pension rights, he said.
“It’s been a real eye-opener,” he said about the study. “We have a lot of work to do.”
Soriano said that in considering whether to join a countywide department, municipalities should have “reasonable expectations.” Municipalities should examine every task that their department performs and determine if they are ready to forgo some of those tasks to achieve the savings proposed in the countywide department.
Soriano also said municipalities should reach out to neighboring municipalities to discuss mutual concerns and needs.
Caliguire said that a countywide department would “not diminish service.”
Although officials gave no date when a possible countywide police department would begin, a start date of Jan. 1, 2014 could be possible.
A copy of the feasibility study is available on the county’s web site, http://www.co.somerset.nj.us/