The NJ.com/Trenton forum was on fire yesterday as flamers burned up the Internet with commentary on the "sleeping police captain" story. Smoldering on the sidelines was the growing debate about the need for more police officers versus escalating overtime costs.
In the former case, there are those who are gleefully enjoying the negative spotlight playing across the career of Police Captain who was caught on camera for the second time sleeping while on duty. Certainly, this is a serious infraction of the regulations and it should be dealt with accordingly.
I won't pretend to have thorough knowledge of Police Union and Civil Service disciplinary procedures, but common sense dictates a possible course of action. Immediate dismissal is probably not warranted in this case. A suspension without pay would probably be more suitable. Along with the suspension this officer should be relieved of some of his many extra responsibilities (professional standards positively, Patrol quite possibly)so that he can get the proper amount of rest that would allow him to then focus his renewed energies on his narrowed duties.
In this writer's opinion, anything less would be grossly unfair to the many officers who have suffered more severe sanctions for lesser offenses. To do less would demonstrate to all the world that the Police and City Administrations do indeed play favorites. And that just isn't right.
As for the "More Cops/Overtime" debate, again we need to stop all the posing and posturing and bear in mind a few simple facts:
The call for more cops is not a "knee jerk reaction" as our Mayor has so glibly categorized it. "Knee jerk reaction" to what? If we are to believe him and the Police Director, crime is down in the city. If overtime is what is driving these numbers downward, then wouldn't more cops on the force be able to accomplish the same thing with less risk of physical and emotional fatigue to the force (thereby providing for an even safer environment for all)? The simple fact that at least one citizen group called for more police over two years before this shows that this has been on the minds of people for awhile.
Any financial argument to be made that the costs of increasing the number of cops would be greater than the ballooning overtime expenses, should be readily available to the Police and City Administrations right now, not two months after the issue is raised by City Council. A dynamic and competent management team would be looking at these cost factors for planning purposes and should have already identified the tipping point where the OT costs start to exceed the personnel costs of an larger police force. It certainly seems as though the Administration is stalling for time as they try to make the best of what appears to be a weak case for not hiring more cops.
The myth of the four on/four off schedule is not the sole problem. Let's be clear, it is a scheduling problem. It always has been a scheduling problem. And when the Palmer Administration was making the pitch for it, many citizens and community groups spoke out against it. Still it became part of the contract with the unions. We've known for six or seven years that sooner or later, the City was going to have to renegotiate (pay more) to return to a more traditional work schedule. The fact is, the schedule went into effect when there were more police on the force and fewer dedicated posts. Available manpower was greater then than now. The schedule has created the need for more cops. Resource deployment and departures from the force have.
Rather than hide behind excuses and stall for time, the Administration needs to step up and say it has made a mistake. We need to increase the number of police on the street by hiring more cops and by returning to a more standard work schedule. The Unions must graciously accept that position and bargain in good faith and conscience for a fair and equitable agreement for all.
We need, now more than ever, to drop the grudges and vendettas; end the controversy and start the conversation. Everyone must dismount from their high horses and start dealing fairly and openly with each other.