Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Santiago - Courier - Letter: Quinlan - Efforts against chief are misguided

Published in the Courier News, Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Letter to the Editor
Efforts to force out chief of police are misguided

In an article that appeared in a recent issue of the Courier News, Plainfield Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig attempted to justify the city's proposal to eliminate the office of chief of police.

According to Mr. Hellwig, the city's action is intended to add a level of "performance accountability" he said is mitigated by "an overly protective bubble or shield around the office of the chief of police" that is regulated by New Jersey's "Chiefs' Responsibility Act."

For the record, the Chiefs Responsibility Act cited by Mr. Hellwig requires the chief of police to report to an "appropriate authority" which is defined in the act as the "mayor, manager, or such other appropriate executive or administrative officer, such as a full-time director of public safety." In addition, a police chief reports to the county prosecutor and attorney general.

What then are the potential benefits of replacing a highly experienced, fully sworn and highly accountable law enforcement professional with a politically appointed civilian police director?

We believe Mr. Hellwig's comments validate our belief that the city's action is motivated by politics rather than economics or efficiency.

His characterization of the Chiefs Responsibility Act as "an overly protective bubble" is certainly the way a political operative would view state laws governing the operation of municipal police departments.

The fact is that the law was enacted by our legislature specifically to prevent political interference in the operation of police agencies in New Jersey.

We believe our state's regulatory system over law enforcement is a common-sense approach to keeping politics out of policing.

Undoubtedly, the protections afforded police chiefs under the law may frustrate a few elected officials in their efforts to exert political control over police departments --- but perhaps that was the entire point of the law. If the law does, in fact, create a "protective bubble" as Mr. Hellwig asserts, it can only serve the public interest by insulating the law enforcement function from political interference.

Would the residents of New Jersey want it any other way? Would they want itinerant carpetbaggers and other political operatives in command of their local police departments?

We think the answer to these questions is a resounding "no."

For these reasons, the Union County Police Chiefs Association strongly opposes the City of Plainfield's ongoing efforts to force Chief Edward Santiago out of office. We hope the residents of the "Queen City" will support their police chief by demanding that the city administration discontinue their misguided campaign to force him out of office.

Chief of Police, Hillside
President, Union County Police Chiefs Association

Online story here. Archived here.

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.