NJ Police Departments Struggle with Cop Shortages
During and after the Great Recession many New Jersey municipal police departments were squeezed financially and forced to downsize.
While some departments have started hiring officers again, a lot of them remain 10 percent to 15 percent smaller than they were before the financial meltdown.
In Fiscal Year 2008, according to New Jersey actuarial reports overseen by the New Jersey Treasury Department, there were 30,605 New Jersey police officers in the pension system. In FY 2014, the most recent year that data is available, that number had dropped to 25,779.
“We’ve not yet recovered from all of the layoffs and the reduction in manpower through attrition, through retirements,” said Christopher Wagner, president of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, and the chief of police in Denville.
Wagner said he lost three officers in Denville, which is about 10 percent of the total police force.
“I’ve yet to even broach the subject of hiring more personnel here, I’m sure it’s very similar in many other communities," Wagner said.
He pointed out municipal budgets across New Jersey are still very tight but “there have been some communities that have recognized the need for good effective well staffed police departments and have taken the initiative to fund that, and begun to increase the size of the police department to get it closer to where it was pre to 2008 budget crisis."
Wagner said these days, funding for police departments is almost exclusively done through the municipal budget.
He said there used to be the Community Oriented Policing Office - or the Cops - office in Washington D.C.
“There were grants available for police officers to be hired for community policing projects but those grants have diminished greatly. There’s not a lot of grant funding available, it’s basically the municipality has to cover the entire cost on their own,” he said.
He added there is no money from the state or the counties, because both are squeezed for money for their own projects and responsibilities.
“You know the counties have their county prosecutor office, their county sheriff departments and then their county road departments and county administrative staff,” he said.
He said the bottom line is even though funding is very tight “as Chiefs of Police we will continue to police the state professionally, all of our communities, we’re going to continue to put our best foot forward.”
Wagner said all levels of law enforcement are working hard to make sure everyone in our community is safe.
“We know that no one is immune from crime, no community is immune from a violent crime from occurring, a random crime from occurring,” he said. “People may question the cost of adding a police officer, but we’re telling you that we believe that much like our schools are an important infrastructure in our town, that our law enforcement and our safety and security is a critical infrastructure and is important as well.”