Citing ongoing corruption probe, Jersey City halts $16M off-duty police detail program

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Citing an ongoing federal probe that has ensnared 11 Jersey City police officers, officials announced that they will be halting an off-duty detail program that cost the city $16 million last year.

“We will be using best practices from elsewhere in the country. If you take a step back and you say ‘why is it across the [Hudson] River you can build an 80-story building and not be required to hire one police officer in a densely populated area, more densely populated than here, yet across the river, here, your required to hire quite a few officers at very high costs’,” said Mayor Steven Fulop.

” .. We’re gonna use the program as an opportunity to hire more Jersey City residents, start on that. And we’re gonna use this as an opportunity to give employment to people that haven’t had jobs in a while – so that’s a starting point.”

The mayor continued that he expects utility companies to reduce their rates when the new city program is implemented.

Responding to the police sentiment indicating it was unfair to penalize 950 officers for the actions of a dozen or so people, Police Director James Shea said while only 11 people have been indicted and/or pleaded guilty, the corruption in the department was widespread.

“11 cops have been arrested and charged, but we found misconduct much wider than those 11 officers in this program and I believe the mayor quoted our letter to the FBI earlier that the investigation will continue on an administrative level,” Shea stated.

“Quite frankly, the reason we’ve it allowed it to go on, through this investigation, because we need to – because some of the people under investigation – we wanted the program to continue so we could continue to observe what they would do. The misconduct was much more widely spread.”

Shea further stated that the city had spent millions on supervisors “to try and clean up some of the problems,” and although the program probably initially had good intentions, he questioned that any officer could have truly been unaware of what was going on in recent years.

When Hudson County View mentioned that a former police chief said he told city officials, including Shea, were told about officers stealing time as far back as 2014, Shea said any and all complaints were referred to the county or federal prosecutors.

In a letter, ex-Chief Bob Cowan said he notified Shea about possible off-duty abuses at the housing authority buildings (h/t The Jersey Journal).

His successor, Philip Zacche, who retired in July, pleaded guilty last month to getting paid nearly $32,000 for off-duty work he did not perform.

Shea later said that city officials were not aware of the situation when Zacche received a payout of over half a million dollars for unused vacation and sick days.

As the roughly 30-minute press conference drew to an end, Fulop noted that the program cost the city $16 million in 2017, also noting that 60 officers made more money doing off-duty work than they did in base salaries.

“You have officers that tripled their salary because they were more focused on off-duty work than police work. There are issues, clearly, with perks and priorities,” Fulop also said.

Officials did not make much mention of what the new program would look like or when it would be implemented, other than Shea telling HCV they are aiming for an annual budget of far less than $16 million.

Also during the question and answer session with the media, Fulop said police officers would not be hindered from finding a second means of income as the new program is being established and implemented.

After the presser concluded, Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association President Carmine Disbrow, said despite the corruption probe, he doesn’t feel disbanding the off-duty program entirely is the answer.

“I think eliminating the program is a bad idea. I believe that this program is not completely corrupt. I think changes have been made in the last year that made the program more accountable: we’ve been asking for more accountability,” Disbrow explained.

He added that he proposed sitting down with the mayor, FBI officials, corporation counsel and anyone else that is necessary to keep this program in effect – but that fell on deaf ears.

If the program does get abolished, Disbrow said residents are likely to see an uptick in crime.

“We have 100 to 150 police officers working off-duty on a daily basis, approximately. That’s 150 police officers on the street at no cost to the taxpayers and I can’t even quantify how much crime that has deterred: it’s impossible to quantify that.”

Today’s announced was far from a surprise, as Fulop said in December the off-duty details may go away completely in 2018.

Furthermore, he confirmed the program would be eliminated in a tweet from two weeks ago.

This marks the latest chapter in the feud between Fulop and the Jersey City POBA, who were furious with the mayor and his administration after an independent arbitrator settled their contract dispute late last year.