"Hackettstown, Independence, Mansfield studying opportunity for police department merger"


02-07-10


By STEPHEN J. NOVAK
The Express-Times

Independence Township has joined an effort to form a new regional police department in northeastern Warren County.

The township committee decided Tuesday to take part in a study of merging its police department with those of Hackettstown and Mansfield Township. Allamuchy Township, patrolled by New Jersey State Police at Hope Township, previously dropped out of the study.

Conducted by Long Branch, N.J.-based Patriot Consulting Group, the study will determine the potential for cost savings and effects on manpower in the three-municipality region, company President Brian Valentino said.

All three departments have approached their respective governing bodies over the past two years asking for more manpower.

"Efficiency is part of it, saving money is part of it," Valentino said. "But you don't want to save money to the detriment of public safety."

A $35,000 state grant is covering the study, Valentino said. He declined to estimate how long it would take.

Independence Mayor Bob Giordano said he is interested to see what the study reveals, though he is concerned about the size of the area a regional department would cover.

"I'm not skeptical about it, I'm just inquisitive about how it's all going to come out," Giordano said.

Mansfield has considered the merger since at least last spring. Talks of a study then were met with resistance from residents and the township's police union.

Mansfield Police Chief John "Doug" Ort said he understands most officers are on board with the study, though concerns remain about future employment.

"As long as it's done correctly, I think it's a good thing," Ort said. "There's always positives and negatives in everything."

Police officials in Hackettstown did not return calls for comment Friday afternoon.

Allamuchy Mayor James Cote said his township was initially interested in joining a local police service when Gov. Jon Corzine in 2008 proposed charging municipalities that use state police coverage. After that action was declared illegal, the incentive to develop township law enforcement dwindled, Cote said.

"Allamuchy just feels that state police coverage is what we want to continue with," he said.