Breckenridge_2Fair Haven Police Chief Darryl Breckenridge expressed reservations about the Patriot plan at a public hearing in Little Silver last month.

An all-out merger of police forces from Fair Haven, Little Silver and Rumson could save taxpayers $1.5 million in 2011 and $2 million in 2017, in part because they’re top-heavy with supervisors to a “striking” degree, the authors of a widely anticipated new study contend.

As expected, though, the Patriot Consulting Group, the governmental services advisory firm hired to explore the feasibility of a merger, does not recommend full regionalization of the peninsula departments for now.

Instead, it recommends a phased approach toward possible consolidation, adding that:

significant observation and recording of how law enforcement officers are deployed, how efficiently they operate while deployed and what functions they are forced to perform during deployment must be earnestly and honestly executed before such a regionalization can be fully assessed and implemented.

Still, the recommendation is likely to be the subject of spirited debate in all three towns as the mayors of each push for shared services to curtail soaring labor and benefits costs while their own police chiefs resist elements of even the limited approach.

At present, 46 officers provide police services to 19,244 residents of the three towns, the report says. Using averages for towns of similar size, the three departments are “overstaffed” by 38 percent based on combined population and 13 percent by land area, it contends — while cautioning that such metrics may not be “wholly appropriate gauges of proper staffing.”

More bluntly, the study finds all three departments top-heavy with supervisors, with a “striking” average of one per 2.5 officers under command, compared to a federal recommendation of one per four or five subordinates.

“Such use of command and senior supervisory officers is indicative of police agencies that cannot, or will not properly utilize or are otherwise not properly utilizing senior officers,” the report says. “Regardless of the actual reason for such use in the studied towns the fact remains that there is between 50 percent and 63 percent more supervisory, senior and command level officers than optimally required for the number of junior officers currently deployed that require supervision and command.”

A full combination of the departments could result in cost savings and better communications while adding “more than a half dozen new, task-specific, customer-service oriented, specialized teams” to departments that are now essentially patrol operations, the study concludes.

But because the towns collect call data differently, the study recommends that the departments first formalize existing, informal sharing agreements and, in the first year, begin to centralize personnel, equipment and tactics in the areas of communications, prisoner holding, criminal investigations, traffic, youth aid, purchasing and information technology.

From the report:

The “phased” approach would also allow time for both citizens and employees to acclimate to the new approach and would allow officers time to work with and get to know their colleagues from the other two communities, which would make the full regionalization to have a smaller impact on operations and community alike upon implementation.

If, after the initial period of combining a limited scope of services, a complete regionalization no longer seems prudent, all three individual agencies could be retained.

At the first public hearing on the issue in July, though, the police chiefs of the three towns were united, however, in opposition to giving up any of their officers for even the initial phase, saying to do so would wreak havoc on scheduling.

In addition, members of the forces turned out to critique various aspects of the proposal, while several residents demanded that any consolidation plan be put up for referendum.

No three towns in the history of New Jersey have ever combined their police forces, according to Patriot principal Brian J. Valentino.

A second hearing on the issue is scheduled for Monday at 7p at the Knollwood School in Fair Haven.

To download the Patriot report, click here: Download finalreport8-13-08.pdf

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