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Public Safety Director Would Serve at the 'Pleasure' of Governing Body

Officials experienced with director position discuss pros and cons of the job's limitations

The township is aiming to have a new leader of the police department in place with an approximate start of April.

Resumes are being accepted for the position of public safety director through Feb. 8, township Administrator and Municipal Clerk Veronica Laureigh said at the Jan. 24 Committee meeting. Once compiled, a committee would be appointed to interview candidates to select a leader for the retired William Nally.

However, the township has not yet decided whether to go with a civilian public safety director, a police director or a police chief, promoted from within the department. Interviews with officials from municipalities with a director acknowledge the position has limitations that may pose difficulties, although the choice to go with a director largely depends on the needs of a municipality at the time.

At the Jan. 24 meeting, resident James LeTellier suggested the committee should strongly consider what role it wants for the person who is hired. A public safety director oversees all emergency services — police, fire and first aid — while a police director would oversee just the police department, LeTellier said.

"We haven't been approached by the township with any of this information yet," said John Hode, president of Lacey EMS. "We look forward to it discussing with them before a decision is made and would expect to be consulted if they decide to put in a public safety director."

Management from Lacey’s volunteer fire companies and Lanoka Harbor EMS declined to comment.

The advertisement for the position should also be revisited, because it is written too narrowly, LeTellier said.

"Colin Powell could not apply for this position the way it's written," LeTellier said. The way the ad is written has led many to speculate the job description was written to fit a specific person, he said.

"I've read the rhetoric," Mayor Dave Most said. "No one has been selected." Most said the person who is hired would be chosen because "he is the best for the job."

Township attorney Lauren Staiger and Laureigh simultaneously jumped in, adding, "or she," to Most's statement, reminding the mayor the next head of the police department could be a woman, causing the small audience present to chuckle. 

Candidates are 'Highly Qualified'

As of Jan. 28, there were 15 applicants, Laureigh said.

But a decision has yet to be made whether the township would be moving forward with a public safety director or a new chief of police, Most said, despite the advertisement for a public safety director.

“How often does a police chief retire? So we have the opportunity to look at all alternatives and other options,” he said. “We just want to make sure (the police department) is run to its best capacity.”

Most said the candidates are “highly qualified.”

“We’re going into the vetting process,” he said. “We have to see how these folks get through the due diligence and vetting process. We’re going to do the best thing for the town.”

Public Safety Director Limitations

A report produced by the New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police states that there are limitations of authority under state law of civilian police or public safety directors.

A public safety director cannot perform police duties including conducting motor vehicle stops, engaging in patrol activities, answering calls for service and stopping or detaining individuals, according to the report.

The director could not wear a uniform or badge, carry a firearm or operate a motor vehicle equipped as a police car. The director cannot examine confidential police reports or other confidential law enforcement documents and he or she cannot access the police department’s terminal for data.

In the Appellate Court Decision L Louis Jordan and the City of Asbury Park v. Peter C. Harvey, Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, it was noted that a municipality cannot grant law enforcement powers to an employee without specific statutory authority, such as a director.

The public safety director provides a supervisory function and is solely limited to civilian administrative tasks, according to the report.

So why consider a shift?

Most declined to comment on potential benefits of having a public safety director until a later date.

Experience Shows Pros and Cons

Long Branch shifted to a public safety director more than 50 years ago.

“There was a change in form of government,” Township Administrator Howard Woolley said. “There had been some difficulties here with chiefs over the years. They determined to go to a director and we’ve been doing that every since. It works fine.”

The public safety director serves at the “pleasure” of the mayor, he said.

“This way (the mayor) has the ability to make sure the individual in there is doing what he thinks should be done,” he said.

A police chief cannot be removed from the position without justified cause, he said. But a public safety director can be dismissed at any time.

“I’m a firm believer, it’s the individual, not necessarily the method. You don’t hire someone to the police department if he’s not the man or woman for the job,” he said.

Financially, he believes having a public safety director comes out about even, although a retired individual could be hired at a lower level. The current public safety director in Long Branch makes $167,000.

“It’s basically a function of who the individual is,” he said. “I think we’ve had very good fortune to have some pretty good people in that position over the years.”

New Brunswick uses a police director, someone with the same duties of a public safety director, except he or she does not oversee the emergency services.

Michael Beltranena, retired police director for New Brunswick, said the police director handles day-to-day operations but cannot conduct investigations. He was able to carry a gun because he was originally a sworn officer.

Although as police director, Beltranena could not be privy to internal affairs investigations, he would receive the end report and be responsible for discipline, he said.

“I was able to make a very unbiased decision of the end result,” he said.

But Beltranena warned that civilian directors and the town must be “careful.”

“They need to be aware of case law relative to the position,” he said.

If Lacey decides to hire a public safety director, they’ll need to draft an ordinance — one that does not grant the employee duties that overstep state law, which has happened in the past, he said.

In the Asbury Park case, the public safety director was wearing a uniform, making arrests and operating a police car, he said.

“I’m a proponent that police departments should be run by a police chief,” he said, adding that police chiefs are promoted from within, know the agency and the culture, is a sworn officer and can conduct investigations.

But sometimes times could call for an outsider, he said.

“Sometimes having someone come in from the outside for a short while can come in with a fresh perspective and assist with succession,” he said. “A lot of police chiefs don’t plan for succession.”

William Meytrott has been the public safety director in Pennington Borough for 15 years. He was a police officer in Hunterdon County for 25 years and a police chief for 10 in Raritan Township.

“You have to understand that there is no statutory definition of a public safety director. There is of a police chief,” Meytrott said. “Public safety directors are creations of local governing bodies, and they’re not codified.”

Because a public safety director is limited in its abilities, it could cause a problem from “time to time,” Meytrott said.

“They cannot take action other than that of an ordinary citizen at the scene of a crime,” he said, using the example of a bank robbery or even motor vehicle stops. “Public safety directors do not have that authority. There is a whole host of actions that a public safety director can’t take.”

Duties can vary from town to town based on the powers that the governing body confer upon that individual, Meytrott said, but they are usually administrative in nature such as disciplinary, budgetary and scheduling.

Pennington hired its first public safety director more than 25 years ago because at that time, the police department did not have any qualified officers to step up, he said.

Losing the position of chief of police could also result in morale problems amongst the police department, he said.

“It takes away one rank that individual officers aspire to become,” he said.

As public safety director, Meytrott makes $54,737, he said, so it could potentially have a cost savings.

“I think one of the main benefits is salary. The salary would be much higher with a sworn police of chief,” he said.

“It’s a very complicated issue in the state of New Jersey,” he said. “There are many facets to this.”

Meytrott has directed programs on public safety directors versus police chiefs.

“It’s an issue. From time to time the courts are called upon to make rulings to decide whether or no the public safety director has acted within guidelines established by the attorney general’s office and whether he’s acting in proper capacity,” he said.

In Manchester, the chief of police also serves as a public safety director, Mayor Michael Fressola said. This model was put in place more than six years ago.

“The municipality would have a little additional power over the actions of the police chief,” Fressola said.

In addition to the chief’s salary, he receives a stipend of $1,500 for his duties as public safety director, Fressola said. That stipend would vary from $500 to $1,500 depending on the individual in place.

“In Manchester, it’s worked out beautifully. It’s added a great deal of cooperation between the police department and the township,” he said.

Ed Wiegant February 01, 2013 at 09:05 PM
John why is Lacey referred to as Nepotismville?
JOHNNY Done it February 04, 2013 at 02:22 AM
This town don't need a public safety director .Lets fill the position at hand ,It is either a police director OR Chief we are straying away from the subject One man in this town don't need to hold all that power..or create more problems because he didn't kiss the ring...The Captain was more qualified than the chief ,WE don't need a politician running the PD Keep it a police position ..If not rotate the committee out with new people I guess they forgot what the people wanted last time this happened..I would assume the committee really don't know what the people want or know whats going on around here...
JOHNNY Done it February 04, 2013 at 02:32 AM
If everyone reads the definition of public safety director is over glorified pencil pusher .He has no powers other than budget & scheduling you might as well hire another municipal clerk cause that all a directors job is ..That's why all the cronies want it no thinking job the ranking officer does all the work..
Ant dine February 04, 2013 at 03:26 AM
Wonder which relative or friend of someone in the municipal building is set to get this job. Has anyone ever looked at all the job patronage and nepotism in this town? Because there are ethics panels in the state and questions should be asked.
Tip Semone February 04, 2013 at 12:49 PM
How about honesty???

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