During a work session on July 14, the Oradell Borough Council discussed moving forward with the hiring of three new police officers.
Council members and the public safety committee recently interviewed candidates for the open positions, according to Councilman Edward Pfleging. After advertising for the open positions, the council and police department received more than 60 resumes, which they whittled down to the best five, he said.
"All those resumes were really top notch," Pfleging said. "The five that we interviewed were really the cream of the crop. All of them are actually engaged in police work today as sworn officers. All of them have some level of education. If I had five open spots today, I would hire all five of them because they really were standout, sharp and would be great additions and set great examples for our department."
Pfleging said after finishing interviews, officials came up with the best two of the five and a third alternate.
"We got to discussing whether there was an opportunity, if we could figure out a way to pay for it, to hire all three, rather than just the two," Pfleging said. "The more we discussed it, the more it started to make sense. We could pick up three people that are actively engaged in police work today and could hit the ground running without a lot of training and I think that would be a big plus."
Pfleging said after filling those positions, the council would forge ahead with preparing to post for the captain's position.
The council came under fire several months ago, when it suggested hiring a public safety director, a non-law-enforcement position, to replace the vacant police chief position. However, they quickly reversed that decision after public outcry came in response to the move.
"We'll need a couple of months for the captain's candidates to study for the test, but I'm hoping maybe in the timeframe of four to five months, that if we move quickly, we may be in a position to appoint someone to captain. Likely, that position will come from a sergeant," Pfleging said. "And we're going to have to backfill that position with an officer. In a matter of four or five months, we're going to be down one of the two that we hire today. And so kind of as a down payment and to be proactive, let's hire three now, so we don't have this deficiency four or five months from now."
Pfleging said the department roster is currently "deficient."
"Right now we only have 18 officers, including a lieutenant who's out on sick leave. So adding three would really get us back to our full bill, which is 21," Pfleging said. "After we hire the captain, we intend to forge ahead and post a lieutenant position so we're going to be again right back in that situation where we're going to be short.
"With all that, I wasn't convinced that adding two officers would help much with overtime, because we have these deficiencies today," he said. "We'll be back here five or six months from now having to approve another officer. Why not just take advantage of it now? By next year, we'll have a vacancy anyway, so it's really the next six months that we have to worry about."
Finding the funds
Borough Administrator Laura Graham said that she had talked to the current leader of the department, Detective Sgt. Billy Wicker, who said that the two appointments would not take place until September. Graham talked about finding the money to fund the third police officer position.
According to Graham, each new officer's salary with benefits would cost approximately $50,000 annually, but the number would be prorated based on a September appointment.
"What I mean by that is using the money that is currently in the operating budget, the overtime, it's kind of like a circular issue right now. The overtime is being expended at a high rate, because they're down in officers. So you fix that problem, we may have to sometime in December come to some kind of emergency appropriation as we've done in the past. To me, if anything defines an emergency, this year would be that," said Graham. "If you're telling me find the money, we will figure it out. We don't have to do a formal resolution tonight or in two weeks. We're not adding extra money into the budget. We're not amending the budget. I'm just looking for some guidance from council saying it's OK to move the process along. If I can't find the money, I will come back and tell you that."
Councilman James Koth said the borough should run a model of the department and plug people into scheduling software, to find out where they might require less overtime, because two squads are operating with reduced manpower right now.
"If you figure every hole you have to plug an officer with overtime and plug that with a new hire, you're automatically saving 'X,' because you're not paying a premium and you're paying a dramatically less salary, so I think we can finance it ourselves," Koth said. "I think you just need to show the council something that shows that it's true, at least for the rest of this year."
Pfleging said they might only have to worry about funding for the third position this year.
"We're committed to rebuilding the police department, restructuring it, creating this leadership structure that we haven't had for many years and we need to be ahead of the curve here on the backfill or it can be a lot of pressure on the department and likely drive overtime up," he said.
The council reached a consensus that they would hire three additional officers, but took no formal action at the meeting.
Koth said that there did not need to be official action from the council to hire, because the borough could offer conditional hire to three officers. After they've met the requirements, there would be a resolution to appoint them in September.
"I think you can proceed," Koth said. "You don't need action. I support it. I've supported hiring police officers since day one. I think Ed is well spoken in the fact that we get folks on board now to facilitate in the rebuilding process because you're not always trying to catch up. You have ample people that can fill in and I think it's something well served, and when it's time for a resolution to appoint them, I think you'll have people on board."
BY STEPHANIE ALBERICO
MANAGING EDITOR |