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Bergen freeholders make it official: County police folded into Sheriff’s Office

Photo Credit: Michael Pagan
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Michael Pagan
Photo Credit: Courtesy BERGEN COUNTY SHERIFF
Photo Credit: Michael Pagan

UPDATE: With only one of their members objecting, the Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders tonight agreed to fold the county police department into the county sheriff’s office .

Voting against it was Republican Freeholder Maura DeNicola, who has opposed the move from the outset, sayng she doesn’t believe it will save money or improve policing.

Going with the will of voters in the final 6-1 tally on two ordinances were Freeholders John Felice, David Ganz, Thomas Sullivan, Steve Tanelli, Tracy Zur and Joan Voss.

The November election of James Tedesco, who backed the plan, over incumbent Kathleen Donovan, who opposed it, was a referendum of sorts on the consolidation, which Tedesco said would save county taxpayers anywhere from $90 million to $200 million over the next quarter-century.

Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino (STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter)

Tedesco called the event “historic,” saying that it creates “a new law-enforcement agency guided by a true professional.”

The board adopted two ordinances that essentially finalize the move. One ratifies a Memorandum of Agreement that Tedesco signed with Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino and county Prosecutor John L. Molinelli in his first official act as county executive after being sworn in on Jan. 1 ( see photo, bottom left ).

The second measure renames the BCPD the Bureau of Police Services and caps the number of officers that the sheriff can hire without freeholder approval.

Now the final details have to be worked out.

Saudino has been huddling with undersheriffs, advisors and others the past two months assembling the initial framework of the new operation.

The select panel has included new department Chief Kevin Pell, a career law enforcement professional who Saudino said has helped him “quickly formulate a template for a smooth transition.”

“Throughout this process Kevin has demonstrated true leadership with a vision for the future which made him a logical choice to lead the rank and file of the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office,” Saudino said last week.

County Executive Jim Tedesco with Prosecutor John L. Molinelli (2nd from left), Sheriff Michael Saudino (right), Freeholders Joan Voss, Tracy Zur, Steve Tanelli (FILE PHOTO: Michael Pagan)

No one will lose his or her job under the MOU signed by Tedesco, Saudino and Molinelli. No changes will be made to the existing labor contracts, either.

Over the long term, however, the sheriff is charged with reducing what will become a combined total of 255 officers to 201 through attrition.

Saudino previously told CLIFFVIEW PILOT that he considers consolidation “a common-sense way to provide millions in property tax relief for Bergen County taxpayers without compromising public or officer safety.”

Although Tedesco said merging police services will save at least $90 million and possibly $200 million over 25 years, there’s more to it than money.

“[A]n equally significant factor is the need to replace redundancies, to become more efficient in the manner in which police services are provided by county govermment and to actually seize upon opportunities to expand such services offered to the residents of Bergen County through this realignment,” the memo says.

The sheriff will “devise a plan whereby County police patrol services will be deployed on a sector basis throughout all of Bergen County, thus improving response times at area colleges and other County owned or operated buildings,” it says.

Saudino will also “make these officers more accessible to the municipal police departments for purposes of backup, force multiplier services, faster specialized services and prisoner transportation.”

Among the other key changes:


• The BCPD SWAT team will be folded into the Regional SWAT team — made up of members of the sheriff’s and prosecutor’s offices and local police departments — to create two brand-new units, rather than have those 17 officers assigned to current squads;

• While K-9 officers trained in detecting accelerants will automatically be absorbed, all other canine services provided by the BCPD will be abolished once the dogs that now do so die or are retired — with their handlers returning to patrol duty, possibly without four-legged partners;

• The county Medical Examiner’s Office will no longer use county police officers — it will shift to an all-civilian support staff;

• Some of the 13 current investigators in the BCPD’s Detective Unit will move into the BCSO Bureau of Criminal Identification, the sheriff’s forensic unit. The BCPD’s three juvenile officers also could be reassigned;

• The BCPD’s Water Search and Recovery unit could be eliminated, given that local firefighters provide many of its functions and “the cost of maintaining such a unit is high,” according to the MOU;

• Sheriff’s officers will be trained in the highway safety functions that previously had been the sole province of the BCPD;

• IT operations will be absorbed by the prosecutor’s office under the same salary and civil service status. A thorough audit of all county law enforcement operations will be done to determine how to consolidate services into an all-inclusive Bergen County Law Enforcement Bureau of Information Technology under the prosecutor’s authority;

• The sheriff will be expected to move officers out of the Office of Emergency Management, which will remain under the authority of the Department of Law & Public Safety and will rely primarily on firefighters, emergency management professionals and technicians;

• The state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center in Mahwah also remains under the county Department of Law & Public Safety, with a BCPD police lieutenant continuing to oversee the operation (as a member of the Bureau of Police Services) and two other county police officers reassigned within the bureau.

The sheriff also must transfer his current dispatching operations responsibilities to the county Communications Center and have it handle all dispatches going forward.

Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco signs MOA (FILE PHOTO: Michael Pagan)

One of the more dramatic changes will involve the Bergen County Police Academy, which the agreement says has “relied too much upon the presence of BCPD officers for its operation.”

The agreement requires the sheriff and the county prosecutor, along with the Bergen County Chiefs Association and the county’s individual police chiefs, to “maintain a fairly divided responsibility for training at the Academy, including in-service training and recruit training.

“[N]o instructors who occupy law enforcement positions, retired or otherwise, from outside of Bergen County shall be utilized by the Academy for training purposes,” it says

The prosecutor — and not the director of Law and Public Safety — also becomes the supreme authority for the academy’s operations. Although the director ultimately answers to the county executive, the MOU requires him or her to report directly to the prosecutor “as it relates to providing day-to-day training services.”

The prosecutor also has the final say on any and all academy-related disputes among the chiefs, their association, the sheriff or the Law & Public safety director, it says.

The memorandum acknowledges that adding the estimated 103 current BCPD officers to the 152 officers that Saudino already has is “far in excess” of the amount needed to police the county, based on figures provided by individual police departments. So it calls for reducing 54 positions through attrition of all officers under the sheriff’s authority.

It is believed that as many as 20 BCPD officers eligible for retirement will pursue jobs with local police departments.

Once the total drops to 201, Saudino will be able to replace bureau police officers with sheriff’s officers, under the agreement.

He can also fill jobs that require specialized skills at any time, with approval from the county executive, it says.

Any current BCPD officer approved for a transfer to sheriff’s officer or investigator in the prosecutor’s office would keep accrued vacation, sick personal and comp time.

Current BCPD employees who handle records, payroll and human resources will be reassigned within the county “unless they provide services unique to law enforcement in a paralegal or agent capacity,” the agreement says. The latter “shall continue within the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office,” with locations determined by the sheriff.

Two BCPD mechanics will be reassigned to the county garage, it says.

The consolidation stems from a resolution approved by the freeholder board in October 2013 following a study by a group that included Molinelli, Saudino and current and retired law enforcement officers, as well as Tedesco and two fellow freeholders.

The initial savings the first and second year will be modest but will increase over time through retirements, drafters of the blueprint said.

Two long-term savings projections have been offered: One takes into account keeping all 524 officers in the two departments and saves at least $90 million a year over 25 years, and another figures in attrition that drops the number to 480, promising a whopping $200 million a year in savings over the same period.

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