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December 11, 2007
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N.J. official pushes for a beefed up auxillary police force

The Jersey Journal

TRENTON, N.J. Assemblyman Lou Manzo's latest and possibly last crime-fighting bill is intended to "provide more police presence" for municipalities at a lower cost.

In a bill introduced Nov. 19, Manzo proposed to change how municipalities create auxiliary police forces. He touts his bill as an alternative to the current patchwork system, in which he says auxiliary police and "special officers," like the ones that help out in Shore towns during summer months, have different powers and training requirements from city to city.

Under Manzo's bill, joining the auxiliary police force would be an "audition" for regular police work, he said. Auxiliary cops would take Civil Service exams and go through a police academy approved by the Police Training Commission. They would be qualified to do everything regular cops do - even carry guns.

However, municipalities would choose how much responsibility to give their auxiliary force, and whether or not they should carry guns, Manzo said. A municipality's auxiliary police force could bolster regular ranks by an additional 25 percent, but his bill requires municipalities to keep at least as many regular cops after creating an auxiliary force as they had before.

His bill specifically states that municipalities could require auxiliary cops to live where they work, a requirement that currently doesn't exist for special officers. It also calls for time served as an auxiliary to count toward pension and benefits if an auxiliary cop is called up into a regular police force.

Manzo says the bill would free regular police from duties such as watching construction sites or directing traffic. But the measure, now in committee, likely won't be addressed until after Manzo, who unsuccessfully ran for state Senate, leaves Trenton at the end of this legislative session. Manzo lost the Democratic primary to Sen.-elect Sandra Bolden Cunningham in June.

Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of law and police studies at the City University of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says Manzo's proposal is similar to a common practice among West Coast police departments and says some officers actually like having auxiliaries around.

"Sometimes, full-time officers report satisfaction with it because sometimes it gives them flexibility to be off and (to) work better assignments. It's not always the case that rank-and-file officers think it's a terrible idea," he said.

Just the same, O'Donnell said, the proposal should be read carefully.

O'Donnell said there should be a supervised hiring process and "a real narrow definition of what their duties are going to be."

"What is the mechanism you're going to use when a volunteer uses deadly force or injures somebody?" he asked. "There needs to be a logical scheme."

Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association President Harry Sandwith was skeptical, but said he'd reserve judgment until he has read the bill.

Another union representative said it seemed like "a union-busting move."

"It sounds like another half-baked idea by a politician trying to garner favoritism in a certain voting block," said Lt. David Tobey, president of the Bayonne Police Superior Officers Association.

Copyright 2007 Jersey Journal

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