Published in the Star-Ledger, Friday, February 22, 2008
Plan to ax police chief post OK'd
Plainfield's force will have a civilian director
By ALEXI FRIEDMAN
The state has approved Plainfield's plan to eliminate the position of police chief and replace it with a civilian police director, clearing the way for the city council to create an ordinance adopting the measure.
The layoff date for Police Chief Edward Santiago is April 11, said Maryann Jemison, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Personnel. The council voted for the layoff plan last month, sending it to the state, which approved the measure Feb. 15.
Santiago will challenge the state's decision, according to his attorney, Patricia Breuninger, although that appeal to the Office of Administrative Law will not push back the April 11 date, Jemison said. Should Santiago win his appeal after the position is eliminated, action would be taken to return his job, she said.
Under the layoff plan -- part of a larger police department reorganization -- Santiago has the option of reverting to captain or retiring. He has not given thought as to whether he would accept the lower rank should his appeal fail, Breuninger said.
Eliminating the police chief and creating a civilian director will give the administration of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs more authority over the department, officials said.
Public safety director Martin Hellwig, who created the reorganization plan, said no decision has been made about filling the police director slot.
The state doesn't need to approve a police director, Jemison said, because it is considered an unclassified position; the mayor can make the appointment.
Hellwig's reorganization plan also calls for creation of a sixth police captain, regardless of whether Santiago accepts the position. The new structure will create a more efficient and accountable police force, city officials say.
Santiago, who has had a contentious relationship with Robinson-Briggs and Hellwig, says the move is personal, aimed at getting rid of him. He is still fighting a five-day suspension issued last spring and has a previous case pending against Plainfield, now in Superior Court, alleging violations of his civil rights, Breuninger said.
Before the Plainfield council introduces an ordinance to create a police director -- which may happen at its March 5 meeting -- Trenton Police Director Joseph Santiago (no relation to Edward Santiago) will give a presentation at a March 3 council agenda session, to explain his responsibilities. He gave a similar address to the New Jersey League of Municipalities conference in Atlantic City in November.
Joseph Santiago, who is a past Newark police director and has spent five years at the helm of the Trenton police, has a complicated past. In January, the Trenton City Council approved a resolution asking the mayor to require the police director reside in the city -- Joseph Santiago lives 40 miles away in Stirling -- or face termination. In February 2003, when the council approved Joseph Santiago as police director, it did so despite protests from police unions. He had recently left office as New Jersey State Police superintendent after seven months, resigning under pressure during an investigation into his possible abuse of office.
Alexi Friedman may be reached at (908) 302-1505 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.