Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association Carmine Disbrow made a plea to the city council to begin the full restoration of off-duty security details, where two council members, including the council president, vocalized their support for such a plan.
Jersey City POBA President Carmine Disbrow admitted to the council that while a few officers had either been convicted or pleaded guilty to participating in no-show jobs, including former Chief Phil Zacche, that was not the gold standard for the department by any means.
In that vein, three officers have received jail sentences as a result of the probe by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“There’s no question that the program has been abused, [but] our unions have pointed out concerns and made suggestions to make the program one that is managed more efficiently and with greater oversight in partnership with several council members who are in front of me,” said Disbrow.
As he noted all the way back in January, Disbrow indicated that using “flag men,” and occasionally New Jersey State Police troopers, at construction sites doesn’t actually save the city any money.
He added the elimination of the off-duty program is causing financial hardship for his younger members and that the elimination has had consequences for public safety.
“Our youngest members are being forced together to couch surf and otherwise live in less desirable circumstances. To be clear, by ending the program with the only alternative of replacing trained police officers with flag men has been a complete disaster and made the city far less safe.”
He finished his remarks by asking the council to introduce a new ordinance so that it can soon vote to restore the previous off-duty program that was on the books.
Additionally, Council members Rich Boggiano, Daniel Rivera and Mira Prinz-Arey have been meeting with counsel to hash out the new details of the ordinance that they say will provide a stronger framework for accountability and eliminates any opportunity for police officers to steal time.
Each of the council members spoke to Disbrow and many of his members in attendance, but Council President Rolando Lavarro had the most strongly worded statement: remarking that the city should reauthorize the off-duty program since they eliminated it illegally.
“I’ve told you my commitment to wanting to see the program reinstated. I think it has been arbitrarily, inappropriately and illegally, frankly, has been terminated, cancelled, suspended, whatever the term the administration is using these days, I don’t know what that is,” said Lavarro.
In an interview, Lavarro said he had wanted to introduce a resolution to restore the off-duty program, rather than an ordinance because an ordinance that established the off-duty program in the first place years ago is still on the books.
However, he also explained that some of his council colleagues felt that a new ordinance would be more effective since it would include new accountability enforcement mechanisms to prevent time stealing.
During his remarks last night, Lavarro said he would make good on a threat of litigation against the administration in the event the council passes the new ordinance and the city still balks at bringing the program back.
“If that ordinance should pass by the council, but it is not implemented, make no mistake: for my part I will stand up in litigation against the administration and make sure that they know that this city council member is going to stand up to make sure that the laws of this city are adhered to,” which drew a rapturous applause from the approximately 50 off-duty officers in attendance.
Earlier this year, the council voted on a new union contract with the JCPD that the police union reached with the city in the final days of 2018.
Yet Lavarro believes that the city has still not officially signed off on the new contract, despite the fact that new police officers have been receiving a starting salary boost of $37,000 to $41,000.
He rationalized such is true since the JCPOBA and the Jersey City Police Superior Officers Association, which represents police sergeants, lieutenants and captains, have been in litigation with the city since January.
He feels that the city wants to use that as leverage against the police unions as they work with the city council to restore the off-duty program – which were abolished in early 2018 in light of the corruption probe and the $16 million price tag from 2017.
“The contract still hasn’t been signed and executed by this administration, but this council has approved it. I would contend to all of you that the contract hasn’t been signed because the administration is potentially using it as leverage with regards to the current litigation. For my part, I think that is kind of a low-end move, this council approved that and we want to see it signed,” Lavarro said.
However, Public Safety Director James Shea said in a statement that going back to the way the program was in years past clearly opens the door up for more instances of corruption.
“The program still exists in a modified capacity, and it is irresponsible for the council to suggest going back to a program that was riddled with corruption and ultimately cost our taxpayers more for unnecessary and oftentimes non-existing services,” he said.
“We’ll let the courts decide, and we’re confident they will agree that the off-duty program needed the reform we implemented.”