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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

City Council Examines Rescuing Citizens from Crime and Financial Ineptitude

Responding to an increasing police overtime price tag and cries for help from residents dealing with crime, Trenton City Councilmen Gino Melone and Jim Coston introduced an ordinance at Tuesday’s City Council meeting that would increase the minimum number of police officers as stated in the Trenton City Code.

"Not to disrespect the officers out there doing the best they can, but something needs to be done," said Mr. Melone. "The cry for additional staffing has been continuous."

The ordinance would have increased the current staffing requirements as quoted in the City Code from a minimum of 270 to 290 to a range of 280 to 320.

The city is currently footing a police overtime bill that is approaching $10 million, and Mr. Melone and Mr. Coston said the funding for their proposed increase could easily come out of that bill.

"The money is right there in your overtime," said Mr. Melone. "How you’re currently allocating that money doesn’t seem wise."

Council President Paul Pintella responded to the introduction by saying the overtime problem was contractual, and he didn’t know if the ordinance would actually address the overtime problem.

"Do you believe adding officer will actually reduce the overtime bill?" added Mr. Pintella.

Mr. Melone said Police Director Santiago and officials familiar with the cost of policing had provided him with numbers about the cost of adding additional officers in the range of 50 officers — well above the number stipulated by the ordinance.

Mr. Melone stated it was his understanding 50 additional officers would have cost about $2.5 million, $1.5 million of which was salary, with the remainder being the cost of benefits.

"I don’t believe Director Santiago said that," said Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum. "We need to do a greater analysis of hiring versus overtime.

"The department has tried to address this by hiring police aides who assume the clerical duties of the officers at a much lower cost."

Ms. Feigenbaum added that the city was currently in contract negotiations with the police unions and that this ordinance would surely affect those negotiations.

Councilwoman Annette Lartigue said the council should wait for a detailed analysis from the administration of the cost of overtime versus the hiring of additional officers.

"They should have already done an analysis," said South Ward Councilman Jim Coston. "We have a problem of folks getting shot, armed robbery, and a murder rate approaching that of the 2005 record.

"This ordinance is an excellent idea and it’s up to the administration to fulfill it."

"The public has spoken, and they want more police," he added.

After discussion the council asked Ms. Feigenbaum to provide an analysis of the costs of the proposed ordinance and the costs of overtime in the recent past, along with projected numbers in the next few years.

Mr. Coston and Mr. Melone cited the continued flight of businesses and the continued victimization of Trenton residents by criminals demonstrating the need for more police.

"Ms. Feigenbaum, the Chambersburg restaurant district lists 17 restaurants, and there are about four of those left," said Mr. Melone, referring to the continued flight of business from the city.

Due to the continued mention of crime at City Council meetings, Mr. Melone said Police Director Joseph Santiago, or at least a representative, should be present at the meetings.

"You can’t answer these police questions Ms. Feigenbaum," Mr. Melone said. "Crime is mentioned every time and the Police Director is never here."

The administration said they would provide the cost analysis at the July meeting of City Council, at which there should be a discussion and possibly a vote.

Earlier in the meeting, city resident Joe Harrison told the council about crime in his neighborhood, recalling a beating of a South American immigrant he had broken up near his home.

After police responded, Mr. Harrison said the officers were inept, and couldn’t apprehend the perpetrators who were walking around the neighborhood.

"I told them if you want, I’ll get out of my car and arrest them for you," said Mr. Harrison.

Mr. Harrison’s mother said she had observed a burglary in the early morning recently, and police never responded to their calls.

"Crime is down, crime is down, that’s all Santiago says," said Mr. Harrison. "When he was in Newark, they said crime was down too, and it went right up after he left."

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