The Council has approved the promotions of six sergeants to the rank of lieutenant effective March 1st and authorized administering the sergeants exam next month.
Chief of Police Frank Papapietro came before the mayor and council during their work session Monday night seeking to promote six sergeants to the rank of lieutenant and authorize administering the sergeants exam for patrol officers on February 28th.
Papapietro told the mayor and council that in addition to a "serious lack of mid-level supervision" within the current structure of the department, officers are being asked to perform duties outside of their rank, exposing the borough to a potential lawsuit.
"The current rank structure no longer supports this organization," Papapietro said.
The New Milford Police Department currently has a staff of 32 officers, including the chief. Promotions to lieutenant have not been made in approximately 10 years, and promotions to the rank of sergeant have not gone through in approximately four years.
The department is currently operating below the 2009 N.J. State Police Uniform Crime Report recommended number of 38 officers, and, according to Mayor Ann Subrizi, below the town's Master Plan that calls for two officers per every 1,000 residents. New Milford's population, just under 17,000, would require 34 officers.
Currently, the rank of the 32-man department includes one chief, one lieutenant, five sergeants and one detective sergeant.
Papapietro said that the low staffing numbers — particularly among the higher ranks — have left shifts without the necessary chain of command and proper supervision.
Stressing the need for additional shift supervision, Papapietro explained that if there is a situation similar to the call his department responded to in early November where a , the town would be "on the hook" if something were to go wrong.
The chief said that although he would have responded to that call anyway, he was also the only officer of rank available and present to supervise at the scene.
Additionally, officers are being required to perform tasks outside of the scope of their rank, a practice that could open the town up to a potential lawsuit, the chief claimed. If the officers grieve this practice, the town is liable to reimburse every officer who has been assigned duties outside of rank for every day that they have worked out of their rank. Compensation would be at the rate of pay for the higher rank at which they were performing duties.
Like New Milford, Englewood Cliffs is currently undergoing contract negotiations with their P.B.A., and police officers are currently working out of rank, a practice that is currently under discussion.
Englewood Cliffs Police Chief Michael Cioffi told Patch that the P.B.A. has added "Out of Title Compensation" into the contract that they are currently negotiating. The language of the contract specifies that an officer must be compensated for the duties of the title for which they are being asked to perform tasks.
"We're down to 22 officers from 29 in 2002," Cioffi said. He added that without promotions there is no other choice but to ask officers to work out of rank in order to meet the needs of the department.
Englewood Cliffs Mayor Joseph Parisi confirmed that the contract currently under negotiation specifies that if a patrol officer is doing the work of a sergeant they must be compensated at the sergeants rate of pay for every day that they are performing the duties of that title. The same goes for a sergeant doing the work of a lieutenant.
"In Englewood Cliffs, there is an 8% difference in pay between the title of sergeant and the title of lieutenant," Parisi said.
Papapietro said that the cost of the six promotions to lieutenant would be approximately $91,000 per year. (Approximately $80,000 pro-rated for the 2012 budget year.) However, due to recent retirements and buyouts, this cost can be realized without increasing the budget.
The council voted 4-2 in favor of promotions and the sergeants exam, with Austin Ashley and Randi Duffie casting the dissenting votes.