Councilwoman Michelle Gentek says Gloucester Township will not be joining the proposed Camden County police force.
"Gloucester Township will not opt in to the program," she said Tuesday. "We will not opt in."
But the Democratic candidate for county freeholder feels the Camden County Police Department Metro Division, which county officials appear primed to launch for Camden City sooner rather than later, is very much needed.
Gentek pointed to Camden's record number of homicides in July. She pointed to the fact that Camden's current 270-member police force would be bolstered to more than 400 officers under the plan. And she pointed to figures that suggest that, on any given day, 30 percent of police officers scheduled to be working don't show up for duty, for one reason or another.
"This is something that Camden City needs. As a county, you can't let that city in your county fall apart. Something has to be done. ... They deserve help. They should not have to live in fear of not being protected," she said. "Everyone has the right in the county to be protected. This is a great, innovative way for Camden to be protected."
Gentek was among a handful of Township Council members who declined to respond Monday night to public questioning seeking individual members' opinions about the proposed countywide police force.
"Do you support the idea of a Camden County Metro Police Department? Yes or no?" Gloucester City resident John Schmidt asked. "It's been out there. I think you all know what it is. I know what you (Council President Glen Bianchini) have stated before. And I'm not asking for the township's overall opinion. I'm asking for your individual opinion, as an elected official in a town in the county of Camden."
Linda Musser, a 2012 Republican Council candidate, was more direct, going right at Gentek.
"What is Mrs. Gentek's position? She's running for freeholder. Does she have a different position as a freeholder candidate as she would a councilwoman?" she asked. "As a taxpayer, I have a right to know what someone's position is. It's my tax dollar."
Schmidt and Musser urged Council members to attend Thursday's freeholder meeting in Magnolia to join police unions in, as Schmidt put it, saying "we want none of it in our town and none of it in our county."
Republicans in Gloucester Township Camden County have rallied around opposition to the county police force, which is being pushed by the all-Democrat freeholder board.
"Maybe it sounds elitist. But these are our tax dollars, and we're already paying a lot in tax dollars here and a lot in tax dollars (to the county)," Musser told Council Monday, referring to the possibility the township would lose its police force.
Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli told Collingswood Patch last week that "what's good for Camden City is good for Camden County." He was referring to the spillover effect of crime in the city.
“Camden will have police officers walking the beat, riding bicycles; policing they haven’t seen in decades,” because the lowered cost of a new contract will afford “more efficient work rules,” Cappelli said.
Gentek indicated Gloucester Township tax dollars will not support Camden's Metro Division police force, nor that of any other town that joins the countywide department—a point Cappelli has made in the past.
"It's not costing us—our town—anything for them to do this," she said. "They're getting all of their money from federal and state grants."
Councilman Dan Hutchison took exception to Schmidt and Musser's line of questioning during Monday's meeting.
"I don't think it's a good precedent to set by somebody coming up here and beginning to question each member on things that are not before the Council," he told Schmidt. "We could get a hundred different questions, where a hundred different people question Michelle, myself, Sam (Siler), etc. Now, you want to speak to me after this meeting? I've never turned you down. And I'lll give you my opinion on it. OK. But I don't think, quite frankly, this is the right way to go about it."
Hutchison later offered his personal support for maintaining Gloucester Township Police Department.
"I believe, personally, that a local police department that has knowledge of the streets in the town, of the people in the town, is the best way to police this town, so I support my police department," he said.
Siler offered a "no" when asked if he supported the countywide police proposal. Council Vice President Orlando Mercado referenced prior statements in support of the township police force.
Gentek, Councilwoman Tracey Trotto and Councilman Frank Schmidt did not address the countywide police proposal during the meeting.
Bianchini reiterated the position of support for local police he offered a few weeks earlier—in stonger terms this time.
"We believe in our police department. We're supporting our police department. There will not be anybody patrolling our streets but Gloucester Township Police Department," he said. "The mayor (David Mayer) has supported that and Council has supported that also."
Schmidt, the Gloucester City resident, later pressed Bianchini for a resolution to memorialize Council's support for maintaining the local police force—a request Gloucester Township Republican Municipal Committee chairman Ray Polidoro has made on several occasions.
"A resolution can be changed also, John," Bianchini responded.
A Camden police union leader told Collingswood Patch the county is planning to house the Metro Division in Blackwood.