On June 7, Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli, Jr. and others of his team appeared before the Courier Post Editorial Board to formally introduce the rumored Countywide Police Department. I want to make it perfectly clear that it was the Op/Ed editor who chose two small communities in Camden County to study, and this was done before I appeared at the meeting.
The two towns were Brooklawn (2010 federal census of 1,955 residents) and HiNella (2010 federal census of 870 residence). Per Cappellli there are 37 police chief in Camden County, and that is many too many. There are 20 communities in the county with 20 or fewer officers.
Per the Courier’s editor, Brooklawn’s police department cost 25 percent of the town’s total budget, and we have one manager for every two officers.
All government salaries are public records and can be found on www.datauniverse.com. However, to make the point that the county can no longer afford to keep 37 police chiefs, Mr. Cappelli compared HiNella’s chief’s salary of $35,836 to Brooklawn’s chief’s salary of $85,876 plus the captain’s salary of $76,440, plus the Sergeant’s salary of $67,120. Now, add six officers and you have a cost which cannot be sustained by the aging population during the continuing Great Recession.
What the “new, improved” countywide department will look like is first and most importantly, voluntary participation. Some communities (e.g., Cherry Hill) have already said they have no plans to participate.
Because of Civil Service regulations only 49 percent of current officers will be able to transfer over to the county-wide department. The rest would have to retire, be laid off, or transfer to departments which stay independent.
The plan is to try to have the countywide officers stay in the area where they currently work, though there is no guarantee of that. Also, by cutting back on the number of police chiefs and managers, many more officers will be put of the street. Again, if we use the example of Brooklawn, the cost of having a chief, captain, and sergeant comes to about $229,000 before benefits. That could “buy” about 6 additional officers. Which do you want?
Another example which was brought to our attention was that Camden County has five SWAT teams.
Do we need five?
The biggest, loudest, and most emphatic question which was asked and answered many times – “Is this county-wide police department” just another way of putting officers into Camden via the back door?” It was sworn to us that that is not the case, though one can never guarantee that officers won’t have to go into Camden for mutual aid.
As an aside we saw our fire department go into Camden three times this week for major fires and our police go once for mutual aid on Route 676. This is a good thing which no one wants to see stop, but the committee swore to the editorial board that nothing would change concerning Camden beyond the mutual aid our communities have practiced for decades.
This is still the early part of the planning stage so look for many changes as time progresses.
Dorothy Heade, Brooklawn, Courier Citizen Editor