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County Police Plan Remains Hot Topic in Township

Gloucester Township leaders vow to keep police local. Some still have concerns.

Camden County freeholders' plan to implement a countywide police force has dominated political discussion throughout the area for nearly two years now.

The discussion has become particularly heated in recent weeks as a county-run police force to patrol Camden City, dubbed the Metro Division, seemingly inches to fruition.

In Gloucester Township, the story has been no different despite elected leaders' repeated statements over the past 12 months or so in support of maintaining a local police force.

The topic was one of the main issues of contention leading up to the 2011 Council election, as Republican challengers questioned Democratic incumbents' commitment to local policing.

Gloucester Township Republican Municipal Committee Chairman Ray Polidoro challenged Council President Glen Bianchini to "put it on paper" in October 2011 after the governing body's leader had backed Gloucester Township Police Department during an earlier Council meeting.

The issue quieted on the local front for a few months, before recently picking up steam again here as the debate has intensified to inferno levels in Camden.

The head of the Camden Fraternal Order of Police recently called the city's dissolution of the police department as "a form of union-busting."

On Thursday, county officials and Camden Mayor Dana Redd told the Philadelphia Inquirer it will cost $5 million to $6.5 million to start up the proposed police force—money they say will come from the state—but ultimately save $14 million per year over current Camden police costs, according to a report published Friday on Philly.com.

A look at some recent statements by Gloucester Township's elected officials:

- "I'm in support of keeping our Gloucester Township Police Department," Council Vice President Orlando Mercado said last Monday. "I have friends and people who work in Camden City—I worked there for seven years—and maybe it's a way to take a look at something different there."

- At Council's Aug. 13 meeting, a Gloucester City resident and a township resident questioned Councilwoman Michelle Gentek—a Democratic Party candidate for Camden County freeholder—about the countywide force and whether she thought it was a good fit for Gloucester Township.

Gentek did not respond during the meeting, but did discuss the topic with Patch the next day. The councilwoman told Patch she feels the Metro Division is a good idea for Camden City. While she did not respond to a direct question about her personal feeling on county police patrolling Gloucester Township streets, she did reiterate Bianchini's oft-expressed response to the question.

"Gloucester Township will not opt in to the program," she said. "We will not opt in."

- At Council's meeting last Monday, Mayor David Mayer responded to a resident's concern about the township being forced to join the county force at some point.

"The county program is an optional program that municipalities would have to make an affirmative decision to enter into," he said.

Mayer also addressed the resident's concern the township could lose out on funding if it refuses to join the county force.

"I think what you might be referring to is there is legislation that is pending—it has not been approved—that looks at state-aid figures and sets up some type of council that would look at different shared-services arrangements," he said. "If they determine that you would be able to save money through trash collection ... then there could be aid withheld if you did not enter that shared services."

- In late July, Bianchini offered his strongest statement to date in support of maintaining the local police force. "I don't believe in the countywide police, and you won't see them here in Gloucester Township," he told a township resident.

Now, we'll look at some recent statements by opponents of the countywide plan, specifically as it applies to Gloucester Township:

- Former councilwoman Maureen McLaughlin suggested to Council last week that even if aid to the township is threatened at any point, voters should decide whether to join the countywide police force.

"My concern is down the road, if they start dangling this over our head, I want to find out from this Council, will they commit to putting it on the ballot prior to making a decision to join?" she asked.

Solicitor David Carlamere told McLaughlin a resident would have to initiate such a ballot question, not Council.

"I think our police force does a great job here. Not to say some of the other areas in the county need help, because I think they do," McLaughlin said, pointing to Camden's record rate of homicides through late August.

- John Schmidt, a Gloucester City resident and open-government advocate who frequently attends Gloucester Township Council meetings, on Aug. 27 offered perhaps the strongest argument made in opposition of the countywide force since it was first proposed in 2010—one local officials seem to embrace.

"Local police are very important. Local police know things—because each town is different—that cops from another town would not know," he said. "Gloucester Township is different than the next town over. Haddon Heights is different than Somerdale. Somerdale is different than Gloucester City. Gloucester City is different than Pennsauken, which is different than Camden. And go on for all the municipalities in this county."

GTWatchdawg September 03, 2012 at 04:47 PM
If Patch is OK with Mayor Mayer, and Council doing the "Gloucester Township two step", and not directly ACTING on the Countywide Police, then you can't blame residents for not trusting the WORDS of the elected officials. Look at what they did with "Pay to Play". As if "Super PACS" were even an issue. Look at where all the money goes from "Red light camera" fines. Actions always speak louder than words. That's all we have heard. WORDS. King George and Capt. Lou TELL GT what to do. There are no "options" in or out.
Schu September 03, 2012 at 06:00 PM
We vote for these clowns every election cycle then when things go bad we pull the lever for the same politicians who have gotten us into this mess.
Paul J. DiBartolo September 03, 2012 at 06:31 PM
I'm not one for conspiracy theories but something in this article caught my attention: "The issue quieted on the local front for a few months, before recently picking up steam again here as the debate has intensified to inferno levels in Camden." While things were heating up in Camden something different was playing out in Gloucester Township. We were being distracted by a different local issue near and dear to out hearts. What was the impetus for Council, led by Mr. Dan Hutchison, to put forth a Pay-to-Play measure when council, seemingly, had fought the idea tooth and nail for months? Then out of the blue as quickly as Hutchison's measure appeared it just as quickly disappeared. Then in almost no time another group drew up a petition and found 1700 signatures on a measure that seemed destined to pass council when, lo and behold, council, voted in lock-step to reject, a surprise, I believe, for all those in attendance who were opposed to passage. And now the measure is destined for the ballot. Meanwhile the whole County Police Force brouhaha is ready to boil over and we are being assured that GT is not interested. I wonder how disinterested we will be when it becomes evident that our rejection of a shared-services agreement in this matter will jeopardize state funds to the township.
Pete Heinbaugh September 03, 2012 at 09:11 PM
In the case of the Countywide Police, non-action is exactly the approach to take to avoid participation in the program, is it not?
Pete Heinbaugh September 03, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Paul, I share your suspicion with the odd sequence of events regarding Pay-to-Play.
Sean McCullen (Editor) September 04, 2012 at 01:47 AM
Not sure Patch is "OK" with anything. Just reporting the facts as we know them. We'll leave the speculation to the players and the residents.
Sean McCullen (Editor) September 04, 2012 at 01:57 AM
In other words, Patch has not expressed its opinion one way or the other on the idea of county police patrolling GT's streets. Or on the responses of township officials over the past year or so when asked how they feel about the possibility. And we do not intend to do so.
Charles September 04, 2012 at 12:31 PM
I don't trust Mayor and council when they talk; I panic when they are silent. Why not make ALL consolidations of services fully public before consideration? How about a referendum on County taxes used to subsidize the "Metro Division" of the County police department?
D. H. September 04, 2012 at 01:56 PM
The golden rule will apply in this matter. He who has the gold rules. The final outcome will be in favor of who ever get their pockets lined the deepest...
Robert Agg September 04, 2012 at 09:44 PM
In regards to the Camden County Police, Gov. Christie (in a report on KYW-1060) said: "It will happen." Gov. Christie has championed shared municipal services from the start of his term. If, at the top, the Govenor wants it, and, at the bottom the Democratic Party leaders want it, what do you think will happen in Gloucester Township?
D.Brown September 04, 2012 at 10:23 PM
On the pay tp play discussion, the committees attorney said he did not understand all the ordinance, as i asked the committee if he can not understand how many of you understand it. Nonoe answered so what did they do "Table it" and put it on ballot for all of us to vote on. When are we going to have it given to us, so we can find someone that can understand it and explain it to us. Sounds like they got what they wanted.
Concerned voter September 05, 2012 at 01:03 PM
I understand everyone's concern with this county police. Believe me when it does happen all towns will be joining. If you don't believe it all you have to do is look at the Lakeland complex, Gloucester twp was forced to take over patrol duties that the county has provided forever. I do mean forced, they will of course put the spin on it of the park police are under manned and can't handle it any longer, but the fact is the county controls the hiring for the park police. So why didn't they hire in lieu of forcing another police dept to absorb the cost and responsibility for a complex that is not there's to worry about. So when someone says, "Hey! What if they force us to join?" believe it is possible and will most likely happen that way.


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