Jersey City Council votes to hire retired ranking NYPD officer for police de-escalation training

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The Jersey City Council voted to hire retired NYPD Lt. Jack Cambria, a former commanding officer of the department’s hostage negotiation team, at last week’s meeting.

Professional hostage negotiator Jack Cambria. Photo via jackcambria.com.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“If the council awards this one bid contract to Jack Cambria, who by the way has produced no evidence showing that his trainings result in better outcomes, then this is just the latest example of overt corruption and crony capitalism alive and well in Jersey City,” Elayna Thompson, a member of Solidarity Jersey City, exclaimed during public portion.

“Reject this resolution, and at the very least, solicit more than one bid.”

While the contract is not a particularly expensive one, $24,000 for eight training sessions – which are two days each – between September 16th and October 15th, that didn’t seem to be the issue that anyone had with this agreement.

As Thompson alluded to, the resolution said Cambria was the sole vendor selected since it would be “impracticable to solicit additional quotes because of the specialized and sensitive nature of such training.”

Hudson County Progressive Alliance’s Amy Torres was another speaker who voiced her displeasure with this current set of circumstances.

” … Our own police director has very close ties – familial ties – to the NYPD and Jersey City has paid this trainer in the past and to what end?,” she said, referencing the fact that NYC Police Commissioner Dermont Shea is James Shea’s brother.

“There’s no record of this trainer’s efficacy to date … it’s really strange to me that Jersey City says no one else can offer training of this type when there’s no examples of other municipalities that have benefitted from their services.”

When it was time to vote, as he did during last Monday’s caucus meeting, Ward E Councilman James Solomon expressed reservations about how the success of the program would be evaluated.

“I had asked sort of what criteria we’re going to use to evaluate the success of the contract. And the response from the administration was they will use metrics and that was literally the level of detail,” he said.

“And I think that reflects that this contract came about quickly [and] came about through relationships and not through a process or analysis to determine if this is the best training.”

While Cambria has committed to making a presentation in front of the council’s ad hoc police committee, Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson argued that doesn’t do much good after the vote, though he thinks the training is definitely necessary.

Additionally, Councilman-at-Large Rolando Lavarro took it a step further, saying that it “reeks of old style Hudson County politics” to do the presentation afterwards, especially considering Cambria has already done trainings in the city.

“There were suggestions and evidence that certain trainings were going on already with Jack Cambria that didn’t involve the city council’s approval and now we have this one,” he began.

“While it’s good that it’s going before the committee, the ad hoc committee, I think it would’ve been better, obviously, if he had gone to the committee before it’s been approved and even before it’s implemented because it’s already being implemented now.”

Council President Joyce Watterman pointed out that it’s not unusual for city vendors to have contracts approved before presenting in front of the governing body, expressing faith in the ad hoc committee – which she started – before questioning the logic of some of her colleagues.

“I’m surprised we won’t really try to get de-escalation for these police officers, who we believe is doing brutality, and yet, we want to push a CCRB board up front, at this time, when it won’t have no authority.”

Ultimately, the measure passed by a vote of 6-3, with Solomon, Robinson and Lavarro voting no.

In August, Mayor Steven Fulop told HCV that Cambria had already began de-escalation training for the JCPD and Cambria confirmed today that he did four sessions in July and likely taught between 100 to 120 officers.

Cambria, whose bio says he has responded to World Trade Center disasters, plane crashes, and a variety of hostage and barricade situations, pointed out that he did a de-escalation training class to JCPD dispatchers back in 2017, which he says helped prevent a suicide just two weeks later.

” … I’m giving them real life training that will not only keep them safe, but the public safe. Anything as simple as their tone of voice and facial gestures can make a difference,” he said over the phone.

“Sometimes, police officers are seduced by believing that they are more than they are. They’re not – they’re public servants.”

He also said that have a more community service oriented perspective that takes the time to understand people’s emotions can go a long way. The 34-year police veteran also denied having any political ties to Shea or the rest of the administration.

“Most people want to respect the police, they depend on the police: a lot of times the defunding is political rhetoric. If we were not the police, the public would have to become the police themselves,” Cambria explained.

“They need the police, they know that. Defunding is the popular rhetoric at the moment. In New York City, crime is up … we absolutely need the police. Sometimes the loudest voices are the ones that get the attention.”

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