Council Members Back Local Police Force
The head of a watchdog group, who was not pleased with a police-involved situation this past weekend, does, too—perhaps more so than ever.
Township Council President Glen Bianchini this week made it clear he wants to maintain a local police force, not move the township's police services to a proposed countywide department.
Bianchini was joined by Councilman Dan Hutchison and Tom Crone, founder and executive director of watchdog group South Jersey Citizens (SJC), in publicly supporting the township police force during Monday's Council meeting.
Crone's statement of support, which drew applause from many of the members of the public who attended the meeting, led to Bianchini's.
"We need to keep Chief (W. Harry) Earle and his officers—K-9s, SWAT, everything—in place, in Gloucester Township, exactly where it belongs," Crone said.
"Mr. Crone, that's one thing you and I agree on," Bianchini responded.
But the brief exchange came following what many would consider an unusual beginning to a statement offering support of a police department.
Crone had just criticized the way a Class I special police officer, or part-time officer, handled an SJC member who was circulating a petition in support of an SJC-backed pay-to-play ordinance at the Blackwood Farmers Market on Saturday.
It was the response from police brass in the wake of the incident, which resulted in SJC member Don Choyce leaving the farmers' market, that Crone cited in his supportive statement.
Choyce on Monday received a call from Deputy Police Chief David Harkins and Lt. Brian McKendry in which they apologized for the way the young, part-time officer handled the situation.
Earle pulled Crone aside before Monday's meeting to offer his apologies for Saturday's incident.
"This is a perfect example of why local policing works better, more efficiently and more user-friendly than the county would ever begin to work," Crone said.
Earle acknowledged after the Council meeting that the young officer was wrong to tell Choyce he had to go.
"I don't deny the officer didn't have the proper information, and can tell you he's going to learn it now as a result of this (incident)," Earle told Patch.
The chief indicated the officer reported that he was under the impression Choyce was selling something when he initially approached the SJC member to find out what he was doing at the farmers' market.
Choyce decided to leave the market before a more experienced, full-time officer had arrived to address the situation, Earle said.
Choyce, an Erial resident, attended Monday's meeting to address the situation at Saturday's market.
"I ended up leaving very angry," he later recalled. "And I said I was going to research it and find out what my rights were, which, obviously, my First Amendment right says I can do this."
Like Crone, Choyce was pleased with the response by police brass.
"I came here loaded for bear, but I got my sails deflated," Choyce told Council. "I'm actually here to laud some praise on Chief of Police Earle."
Camden County freeholders last week approved a memorandum of understanding between the county, Camden and state Division of Local Government Services that moves the city one step closer to putting its policing under control of a proposed county force, according to the Courier-Post.
"The City of Camden faces a public safety crisis that needs to be addressed now," Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. said in a recent statement. "The best option is a regional police force that would put twice as many officers on the streets—making it safer to live and work in the city. The police force would be paid for by the City of Camden, and its officers will not come from neighboring suburban towns."
Camden is the only municipality where officials have publicly expressed interest in joining the countywide police force.
Hutchison reported at the end of Monday's meeting that he was in London during the British capital's recent riots. That experience made him appreciate his hometown that much more.
"The sense of being unsafe—it was really kind of weird. I really appreciate the level of protection that our police department provides in this town," he said. "It's something I was thinking about while I was out there."