N.J. town drops plan to replace police chief with civilian
Shannon D. Harrington, Staff Writer
(LODI, N.J.) - Borough officials have for now scrapped a plan to hire a civilian police director to replace police Chief Edward Kukalski, citing uncertainty over whether he will return after undergoing hip replacement surgery.
Council members had considered appointing a director to temporarily take over the department, saying Kukalski, a 38-year veteran of the force, had told them he would retire at the end of the year. But later, they said, Kukalski indicated he may return, depending on how the surgery goes. The chief left active duty March 2 and is expected to undergo surgery soon.
With the chief maintaining his post indefinitely, borough official scould not legally give the top cop's powers to a civilian director, a position the council members wanted to help reorganize a department that has been plagued by suspensions and injuries.
Retired Lodi police Capt. Joseph Piparo, the father of Councilman Joseph Piparo, was considered the leading candidate for the position.
In late February, Bergen County Prosecutor William H. Schmidt weighed in on the issue when he heard that the council members were contemplating a police director.
In a letter to Mayor Gary Paparozzi and the 1 council, Schmidt said that hiring a police director without Kukalski's official retirement would violate state law.
Lodi officials say Schmidt's letter had no bearing on their decision.
"The decision had already been made not to go with a director," said Borough Manager Stephen Lo Iacono.
Added Borough Attorney John Baldino: "The only thing that affected the decision was the chief's recanting position that he was going to retire."
Schmidt's letter, however, did anger Paparozzi and others on the council.
"They're interfering in matters that do not concern the Prosecutor's Office," Paparozzi said. "That is none of their business.
That is between us and the chief."
Since July 1998, Schmidt's office has been monitoring the borough Police Department during a federal and county probe into allegations of corruption.
Three officers were arrested and suspended shortly after the monitors moved in. One officer is charged with assaulting the owner of a massage parlor, and a second officer is charged with conspiring to distribute hypodermic needles. The third officer, Sgt. Ernest Iodaci, was acquitted this month on charges of fixing tickets and other misconduct.
Schmidt could not be reached Thursday.
Though the police director issue is dead for now, Piparo, the councilman, said borough leaders may reconsider the option of bringing in a director if and when Kukalski does retire.
Piparo said that morale on the force has suffered during the ongoing probe.
"We want to help that situation out," he said. "We have the hardest-working police you could ask for."
Capt. Joseph Ciaiti is serving as acting chief in Kukalski's absence.
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