Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Record: Police brass outnumber rank-and-file cops in Englewood Cliffs

Police brass outnumber rank-and-file cops in Englewood Cliffs

The Record

Patrol officers in Englewood Cliffs are outnumbered — not by criminals, but by their supervisors.
Promotions that take effect July 1 will leave front-line officers in the minority on the top-heavy force of 26. The 10 remaining patrolmen will answer to a chief, a deputy chief, two captains, six lieutenants and six sergeants.
An arbitration ruling in a labor dispute between the borough and the police union created the opposite of the normal Police Department hierarchy and left the mayor shaking his head in disbelief.
“It’s the most idiotic solution I’ve ever seen, but it’s the only solution right now,” Mayor Joseph Parisi said before the Borough Council approved 14 promotions on Thursday night. “This is the lesser of two evils.”
The promotions were part of a deal in which the police union agreed to forgo three years of back pay owed to officers who had been performing duties of higher-ranking and higher paid officers.
Prior to the agreement, the department had 19 patrolmen, three sergeants, two lieutenants and no captains, Police Chief Michael Cioffi said.
Thirteen of the officers receiving promotions had been doing the jobs of a higher-ranking officer, he said, and the other one was rewarded for his exemplary performance.
The promotions won’t take cops off the street. The six new sergeants will be assigned to patrol while also serving as supervisors, Cioffi said.
“They’re long overdue,” Cioffi said of the promotions, the department’s first since 2007.
While lamenting the fallout, Parisi said the deal avoids a protracted legal fight with the police union and having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay.
The December arbitration ruling gave the borough’s police officers and supervisors their first contract, and awarded them retroactive raises progressing from 1 percent in 2009 to 2.5 percent in 2013. Before that, raises were given through ordinances or memorandums or even with a handshake. The ruling exempted the chief and deputy chief because they have separate contracts.
The borough appealed the ruling but lost, putting the borough on the hook for the back pay owed the officers.
Instead, the borough and union agreed on the promotions in lieu of retroactive pay.
The promotions were approved 2-0 by council President Joseph Favaro and Councilman Edward Aversa at a special meeting. Councilwoman Carroll Morrow, who is married to the deputy police chief, abstained. Council members Melanie Simon, Ilan Plawker, the police commissioner, and Gloria Oh, the council’s finance chairwoman, were absent.
Ramon Ferro, a Republican candidate for council, said having only two council members vote on the promotions was “completely irresponsible.” Resident Lauren Eastwood questioned how much the borough was saving by promoting the officers, who now will get paid a higher overtime rate and retire with a bigger pension.
“In my opinion, it is a very bad deal for Englewood Cliffs’ taxpayers,” she said in an email.
The contract requires the borough to pay sergeants $131,592 a year in 2013, lieutenants $142,118 and captains $153,487.
Mitchell C. Sklar, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, said having such a top-heavy police department is unusual.
“They chose to invert that pyramid,” he said. “I never heard of this before.”
Joe Iannaconi Jr., the borough’s chief financial officer, said Englewood Cliffs will pay an additional $80,000 in police salaries this year because of the promotions. If the borough had paid the back pay for the three years covered by the arbitration ruling, it would have cost more than $300,000, he said.
Cioffi estimated it would have cost the borough closer to $500,000, but said officers were willing to give up the money to advance their careers and end the legal conflict.
“It was going to be a cost to the town one way or another,” Cioffi said. “Who wants to continue fighting the battle? Everyone just wants it to come to an end.”