South Amboy Residents Protest Police Layoffs

SOUTH AMBOY – More than 60 city residents, police officers and their family members protested against the planned layoff of five South Amboy police officers outside of City Hall last week

The five most junior officers in the 30-man police department gathered before the city council meeting on May 19. “It’s sad that it had to come to this,” said Jacob Murray, one of the officers who received a layoff notice. “I was in a bit of shock, just like everyone else. I’m having to look for other jobs,” he added.

According to South Amboy Mayor John T. O’Leary the layoffs are necessary to deal with budgetary constraints.

“This council is not doing this in a vacuum,” he said during the meeting. “The fact of the matter is we never planned to run a 30-man department. It’s always fluctuated.” O’Leary insisted that the safety of the residents would not be affected. He said the department has historically varied between 26 and 30 members.

New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association spokesman James Ryan painted a different picture. “More cops equal less crime,” he told the council, and asked them to consider other options. He pointed to crime rates, which showed the crime rate in South Amboy was 20.8 percent in 2004 with 21 officers. In 2007, the latest year available, the crime rate dropped to 16.1 percent with 30 officers.

“I can’t tell you exactly what will happen, but based on this, I would expect the crime rates to increase,” he said.

According to Business Administrator Camille Tooker, the city is exploring other options to avoid the layoffs. South Amboy applied for a COPS Hiring Recovery Grant under the federal stimulus legislation that would provide funding for up to five police officers. If approved, the grant would provide up to $1.3 million in salary funding plus benefits for three years.

Since 2004, the city has seen increases in Group Health Insurance ($443,680), Workers Compensation ($115,000), PERS Pension Payments ($267,000), PFRS Pension Payments ($420,869), and Utilities ($300,000) while seeing a loss in revenues in Supplemental Energy Tax ($213,350), State Extraordinary Aid ($850,000), COMPTRA ($411,094) and Homeland Security ($50,000), Tooker said.

Robert Point, president of the South Amboy’s Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 63, told the council they were looking “in the wrong place” to make cuts, noting the five policemen are first response officers. “There is no way possible it will not affect the safety and security of citizens at large.”

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