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Cliffside Park council takes power to assign detectives, NJ chiefs to sue

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: With nearly two dozen of his fellow police chiefs in attendance, Cliffside Park council members last night took over authority for appointing detectives from Police Chief Donald Keane, one of a pair of moves that the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police said it will fight in court.

“They can promote who they want — that’s their authority,” said Raymond Hayducka, the immediate past president of the chiefs association. “The big problem is when you start telling the chief who to assign and where to assign them.

“Not only is it bad business. It’s bad politics,” he told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “It’s also illegal.”

Hayducka, the state association’s spokesman, brought his concerns to last night’s mayor and council meeting in Cliffside Park. So did several members of the county chiefs association.

Their attorney, Patrick O’Dea, asked council members to table the vote until it could be discussed. His request wasn’t addressed, nor were any other concerns that were raised.

The vote was 5-0, with one abstention and no discussion. Councilwoman Dana Martinotti said she needed more information before deciding. An ill Mayor Gerald Calabrese could  not attend.

CLICK HERE to read: the CLIFFSIDE PARK PD AMENDED ORDINANCE

The revised ordinance approved last night designates the deputy chief as the officer to report to the Mayor and Council any time Keane is absent for any reason.

But the provision drawing the most heat creates a new department position that the council essentially controls.

“The Mayor with the consent [of] the Council may permanently designate as a permanent title ‘Appointed Detective’ to no more than three ranking officers,” the measure says.

Hayducka said this clearly violates state law, which specifies that police chiefs in New Jersey hold the authority to “prescribe the duties and assignments of all subordinates and other personnel.”

Case law backs it up.

In Quaglietta v. Haledon, 182 NJ. Super. 136, 145 (Law Div. 1981), a New Jersey administrative law judge found that the Police Chiefs’ Bill of Responsibilities was enacted “to grant statutory powers to police chiefs by mandating that they shall be in charge of their departments and providing for their specific duties  and responsibilities . . . [and] to prevent interference by elected officials• individually in the operation of the police force.”

In Gauntt v. City of Bridgeton, 194 N.J. Super. 468, 490-491 (1984), the state Appellate Division said that a police director “impinged on the chief’s statutory authority to assign personnel by, among other things, overruling the chief’s choice to command the detective division and assigning a different officer.”

Assigning officers to detective positions, permanent or otherwise, “surpasses their authority to make policy and encroaches on Chief Keane’s right to assign subordinate personnel,” Hayducka told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “They can promote officers, but an assignment to the detective bureau is not a promotion. Council members cannot assign officers to particular positions.”

Keane, a 34-year veteran who is the current president of the Bergen County Police Chiefs Association, has declined comment while the issue is pending.

“I just want them to let me run a good department,” he told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

Technically, the measure doesn’t officially become an ordinance for 20 days, Hayducka said.

“A detective position is an assignment, not a promotion,” he said. “State statutes say the chief has the complete right to assign officers, including detectives. Now the council will be making those assignments?

“That violates the Police Chiefs Bill of Responsibilities, which is governed by state statute,” Hayducka added. “We’re sure the courts will agree.”

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