Published in the Courier News, Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Speaking Out [OpEd]
No basis for eliminating chief of police position
By ROMAN MARTYNIUK
This is in response to an article which appeared in the Courier News on Jan. 25 regarding the proposed reorganization of the Plainfield police department and the elimination of the position of chief of police.
The council or at least the four members of the seven-member council in attendance passed a resolution that proposes eliminating the office of the chief of police and creating the position of police director.
The ostensible reason for this action, according to statements made by members of the council, was purely a management decision intended to increase the level of accountability. This explanation just doesn't hold water. In fact, notwithstanding the procedural flaws wherein the council failed to notify the public of the proposed resolution, this situation is wrought with so many misrepresentations, inaccuracies and flawed assumptions that it will be difficult to address them all in one letter.
By statute (40A:14-118 aka The Chiefs Responsibility Act) the chief of police, whoever it may be, already is directly accountable at the municipal government level to what is referred to as the appropriate authority (mayor, manager, or such other appropriate executive or administrative officer, such as a full-time director of public safety) and, on a second level, through the law enforcement chain of command to the county prosecutor and the state attorney general.
That same statute clearly defines the various duties and responsibilities of a chief which includes "prescribing the duties and assignments of all subordinates and other personnel." Reference was made to a series of disciplinary actions involving Chief Santiago. This reference is misleading at best. There is not now, nor has there ever been, any suggestion that Chief Santiago has not adequately performed his official police duties.
In fact, crime in Plainfield has decreased significantly under his leadership. The "transgressions" involve his refusal to implement changes in personnel assignments that were directed by the public safety director, even though those directives clearly infringed upon the authority granted to the chief under 40A:14-118. Failure to submit to inappropriate political interference should not be cause for disciplinary actions; to the contrary, it is an act of principle and moral courage that should be applauded.
If the public safety director wants to assume the authority of the chief either directly or through a civilian surrogate, they should apply for admission to the police academy, subject themselves to the many weeks of rigorous training, go out on the streets for 20 years to obtain law enforcement experience, and then compete for promotion against any other eligible senior law enforcement professionals -- not try to usurp the duly granted legal authority of the chief through questionable administrative manipulations.
The proposal to demote the chief and replace him with a police director would add a purely administrative position (with no law enforcement powers or authority) to the municipal payroll without adding or improving any level of management accountability. (An additional financial burden to taxpayers with absolutely no benefit.)
In the interest of full disclosure, I have met Chief Santiago in a professional capacity. We both attended a law enforcement training seminar addressing the prevention of violence in schools and again, at another training program focusing on intelligence-based policing (sponsored by the New Jersey Department of Homeland Security and Preparedness.) It should be noted that both these professional development experiences took place subsequent to the filing of the "disciplinary" actions filed against the chief.
In a world in which local police have become increasingly involved in homeland security, anti-terror, anti-gang and emergency response missions, as well as school shooting/school safety issues, it is ever more common and necessary for local police departments to work in partnership with other federal, state, county and municipal law-enforcement agencies. Here the issues of credibility, professional courtesy and security clearances come into play; issues that strongly favor a sworn chief of police over a political appointee. Especially a chief who remains fully dedicated to fulfilling his professional responsibilities despite a disappointing lack of support from certain elected officials.
Roman Martyniuk is public information officer, New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police.
Online story here. Archived here.
(Note: Online stories may be taken down by their publisher after a period of time or made available for a fee. Links posted here is from the original online publication of this piece.)
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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.