TritowncopsAbout 100 people turned out for Monday night’s meeting on consolidating police work on the peninsula. According to a show of hands, most were officers or their relatives.

You’re not showing us any real savings. You’re creating a new bureaucracy, one that will be saddled with huge costs when the political wind inevitably shifts in Trenton. You’re ruining the “sacred relationship” between residents and cops small-town cops.

In sum, the message and tone of the second public hearing on whether to begin consolidating the police departments of Fair Haven, Little Silver and Rumson: bad idea.

“As far as I’m concerned, this whole thing is kind of the demise of three small-town police departments,” former Rumson police chief Bob Zerr told the Fair Haven council at a special meeting in the Knollwood School auditorium last night. “We’re being asked to buy something without a bottom line. I think in the long run, the taxpayers will be cheated.”

Much as it was at the first meeting on the topic last month, the audience was dominated by police department employees and their relatives. Some who spoke said they were on board with the idea of curtailing property taxes, but said the police departments shouldn’t be the first on the chopping block. The phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” was uttered more than once.

But when one man claimed that “it’s broke,” as evidenced by soaring property taxes and the fact that the police are the biggest single expense for the three town, he was met with cool silence.

Img_6834A Little Silver resident challenged the use of comparative data in a consultant’s report that recommends the police begin sharing some services.

Unlike the first public hearing, held in Little Silver’s borough hall, last night’s had empty chairs. That had been predicted by Fair Haven Mayor Mike Halfacre, who noted beforehand that just one resident had stopped by borough hall to pick up a hard copy of the consultant’s report at the center of the debate.

The report, by Patriot Consulting Group, a government services analysis firm, has been available online at the borough website and redbankgreen since it was published last week.

Much as the first session, though, this one was marked by a broad range of doubts about the wisdom of police consolidation in the three towns, with questions raised about the ability of cops to know and understand the needs of three towns’ residents instead of just one. Some speakers sought nuts-and-bolts answers from Patriot President Brian Valentino about staffing and cost savings.

“I am not against full regionalization, if it’s done right,” said Gary LaBruno, a sergeant in the Little Silver department. “This is not being done right.”

His boss, Chief Shannon Giblin, told the gathering he simply could not support a component of the shared services plan calling for a centralized communications operation unless it is based in his town. Otherwise, “it’s a tremendous decrease in service for Little Silver,” he said.

“All you’re doing here is building a new bureaucracy,” said Bill Chapman of Red Bank, who invoked his 15 years of experience in Wall Street mergers and acquisitions to buttress his assertion that no great savings would come from consolidation, and pointed to runaway costs from the planned shutdown of Fort Monmouth as a sign of how wrong forecasts of savings can be. “Think real hard what is coming down the track.”

“There is a very sacred relationship between the taxpayers and the policemen,” said one man. “What in the name of god are you doing? You are wrecking the relationship between the taxpayers and the people who serve them.”

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, who initiated the the consolidation movement as a Little Silver councilman three years ago, told the audience that the sharing of detective and other services proposed in the Patriot report was the first of several “baby steps” toward a possible full consolidation. But “nothing about it can’t be undone,” he said.

Here’s the 52-page Patriot report; not yet made available in digital form are about 50 pages of supporting documents that are included in the hard copy. Download finalreport8-13-08.pdf

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