Police Stalemate is Deadly Business

Public safety in our biggest cities may take a big hit if there are massive police layoffs due to budgetary shortfalls.

At a fundraiser for mayor Jerramiah Healy in December, Jersey City police protested layoffs. “It’s hard to see a way out of this crisis,” Adubato writes, “as long as police union leadership takes a hard line.”
Doug Bauman/The Jersey Journal.

These days, when we all are worried about the economy, it’s important to remember that economic strength and job growth are the product of many factors. Among them is public safety. It’s no secret that in New Jersey, particularly in our biggest cities—including Camden, Paterson, Jersey City and Newark—public safety is at a breaking point. Hundreds of cops are being laid off as the fiscal crisis in our cities gets worse. Most of those cops are younger, in better shape and in some ways better prepared than their veteran colleagues to deal with the kinds of violent crime occurring on our urban streets.

Cash-strapped municipalities across the state are asking police unions to make significant concessions. We are talking furlough days, salary freezes and, in some cases, reductions, as well as eliminating uniform allowances. Cops also are being asked to kick in more for health benefits and to revisit their pension benefits.

In Newark, Mayor Cory Booker is getting his head handed to him. The cops hate him and the union is fighting him. Union leaders wouldn’t give an inch when Booker begged that they renegotiate their contract. As a result, 167 cops were laid off. What followed? Violent and other crimes including car jackings and drug activity have spiked upward in recent months in the state’s largest city.

The picture isn’t much better in Jersey City, where Mayor Jerramiah Healy re- cently told me: “This administration has hired more police officers than any administration in probably the last 50 years. 250 police officers. Why? Because it’s issue number one….However, here’s what we’re asking for—some concessions from our police unions. We are asking that they give up their $1,300 uniform allowance just for the calendar year. If we do this as well as a pay lag [which would mean each officer’s last paycheck in 2011 is pushed into January 2012], we won’t have to lay off a police officer or demote a superior officer.”

But now it’s getting personal. Recently, a group of angry cops protested and stopped traffic at a Healy political fundraiser in an effort to gain support in the community. Union officials told the media that if cops were laid off in Jersey City, people shouldn’t feel safe. It’s not a new scare tactic for cops, but the message seems more pervasive than ever.

In Camden, where 180 cops are being laid off, the police union handed out 3,000 flyers saying: “Layoffs = More Crime, More Assaults, More Shooting, More Murder, Can We Afford This?” Says John Williamson, Camden’s union president; “We are open to discussing concessions….What we are not open to is unreasonable demands and having things rammed down our throats.”

Who will define what is unreasonable? How do we distinguish a strong mayor from one who “rams” something down union throats? It’s the kind of stalemate that jeopardizes our urban communities—where things can get worse in a hurry. More cops will be laid off. Crime will likely go up and with that, those who can leave our cities will do so in a heartbeat.

Sooner or later, some municipalities will no longer be able to handle public safety on their own. I remember the summer of 1967 in Newark where I grew up, when the riots exploded and state troopers and the National Guard came in to take control. It’s a scary thing. And, if those who can move out do so, ask yourself, who is left behind? Those who have the least; those who need the most; and the vicious cycle continues.

It’s hard to see a way out of this crisis as long as police union leadership takes a hard line. If we maintain the status quo, more cops likely will be laid off. Then who wins? Not the cops, not the mayors, but most of all not the citizens of New Jersey’s cities. Tell me what you think at [email protected].

Steve Adubato, PhD., is an Emmy Award-winning anchor for Thirteen/WNET and a media analyst and columnist for MSNBC.com, who also appears regularly on Fox 5 in New York. He is the author of Make the Connection, as well as his soon-to-be published book You Are the Brand!. For more information, log on to stand-deliver.com.

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