Published in the Star-Ledger, Wednesday, February 06, 2008
Compromise urged in Newark police feud
State Attorney General's Office issues opinion in case
By JONATHAN SCHUPPE
The state Attorney General's Office yesterday waded cautiously into the legal battle over Newark Police Director Garry McCarthy's powers, saying he should get access to key operational and crime-reporting data.
But the opinion, written by Division of Criminal Justice Director Gregory Paw, did not say whether McCarthy could remain involved in day-to-day decisions of the Newark Police Department. Instead, Paw encouraged the warring sides to work things out.
McCarthy, a retired New York Police Department deputy commissioner, said the opinion "shoots down as irrelevant" claims by the Superior Officers Association that he had usurped powers granted by state law to the city's sworn police chief.
But SOA President John Chrystal, who represents 259 sergeants, lieutenants and captains, said Paw "didn't address the issues" directly. He vowed to press on with a lawsuit seeking to strip McCarthy of his ability to run most aspects of the force.
Chrystal said he found Paw's timing curious. Written in response to a May 2007 complaint by the SOA, the opinion came down just six days after the SOA filed its lawsuit in state Superior Court alleging McCarthy had overstepped his legal bounds by making deployment decisions, disciplining officers and running weekly crime-strategy meetings.
"Why did it take so long?" Chrystal said.
David Wald, a spokesman for Paw, declined to comment.
On another front, Chrystal has also tried to block McCarthy's ability to issue promotions by citing a long-forgotten 1982 city ordinance that caps the number of people at each rank. McCarthy must now ask the city council to change the ordinance, or demote three captains to fall in line with the law.
Whether Paw's decision will influence the SOA's lawsuit remains uncertain. But Paw clearly favored McCarthy. And he was dismissive of the SOA's argument involving similar cases in other New Jersey municipalities where judges have ruled against a civilian director's ability to directly run their departments.
Paw said the rulings don't necessarily apply in Newark, which is bigger and faces much more complex crime problems than the other municipalities. To do his job well, Paw said, McCarthy needs access to information about the department's daily operations and the city's crime problems.
But Paw said the director and the chief need to get along for the department to run well. McCarthy and Police Chief Anthony Campos have a strained relationship. Paw encouraged all sides to resolve the issues as "partners."
Chrystal said he has asked for a meeting with Paw and McCarthy. If that fails, he said, "we'll see what the courts have to say."
Jonathan Schuppe may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (973) 392-7960.
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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.