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DV Pilot police & fire

NJ police salaries aren’t the problem

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

WHAT WE THINK: Many are making much of a newspaper report that New Jersey police salaries are the highest in the land. To paraphrase a man who puts his life on the line every day to protect his community: Does a bullet feel any different if it’s fired in, say, Lyndhurst, than it does in Paterson?

Know how many police officers have been killed in the line of duty in Lyndhurst? Four.

In Paterson? The same.

Top of the heap in police salaries, the newspaper said, is Bergen County — coincidentally one of the wealthiest counties in the nation. In fact, the story began with an officer (now good friend) in Closter, literally up the road from where I live.

You know how often I’ve seen Closter police respond to accidents and other incidents? A lot. Sometimes they’re dealing with dead people inside wrecked vehicles, other times with domestic disputes and sometimes with weapons calls. At no time can they be 100% certain that a seemingly routine incident won’t go sideways quick.

Ask police in Glen Rock, where a drunken man threatened to shoot three officers, then got into a fistfight with them. Or in tiny Elmwood Park, where a man with a loaded shotgun kept a SWAT team at bay for nearly three hours.

Then again, you could try New Milford Police Chief Frank Papapietro:

After rushing to a report of a vehicle stuck in a ditch, two of his officers came up against a familiar face — that of 59-year-old Daniel Cardinali, who just weeks earlier tangled with patrolmen sent to his house.

This time, Cardinali began swinging a club before he was subdued — the eighth time this summer a police officer in tiny, working-class New Milford was attacked.

“When people complain about how much officers are paid, they should ask themselves if they could stand up to situations such as these and conduct themselves as professionally as did these officers,” Papapietro said. “They should ask themselves if they could even keep from running away.”

I’ve been in journalism 30+ years and I never saw a colleague do anything beyond ask questions, take notes or spend hours writing a story. I worked the streets many of those years — even had a knife put to my throat in a Perth Amboy housing project while on an assignment late one weekend night. How many other “journalists” adding police salary figures to their stories can say the same?

Let’s imagine, for a moment, a state without arbitration, where legions of law enforcement officers simply walk off the job. First thing anyone would do is beg them to come back.

And not just to combat crime.

“How about when a child’s hand gets caught in the spokes of a bicycle chain, and we’re there in seconds with bolt cutters?” said a local officer I know. “Or someone not breathing? There’s fast response with the proper training and equipment.

“You’re afraid at night, and help arrives. Your kid walks to school, looks around and there is a patrol car near,” he added. “Go to a different state or area and only ambulance crews respond to an emergency.

“The protection, equipment and response are what you pay for.”

Get a load of this: In Camden, where A QUARTER of its police force was let go, Chief Scott Thomson apologized to residents, saying that anyone in a car accident without injuries, minor theft or vandalism will have to phone in the information or visit headquarters.

The irony of the newspaper “exposé” is difficult to miss: The reporters and editors poring over police salaries are the first ones to knock on the chief’s door, asking for news about arrests, accidents, triple-ax murders, mayor’s cat caught in a tree, etc.

They're also omitting crucial elements.

Begin with towns that won’t hire new officers but, instead, will pay overtime to the ones they already have. Is that an officer’s fault? When I worked at an anti-cop paper, I kept my name at the top of the list for extra duty whenever they were shorthanded. One Labor Day weekend, I got triple time for coming in when no one else wanted to work. Did that make me overpaid?

Also conveniently left out are the sources of some of those salaries — namely “Click It or Ticket” and “Over the Limit, Under Arrest” campaigns, which contribute state and federal dollars. Then there’s the extra money police can make wearing orange vests at work sites — to protect the public. Know who pays for that? The utility companies doing the work.

To suggest that local residents are completely footing the bill for protection is disingenuous.

Still, police are somehow supposed to bite their tongues and help these very same people who are trying to turn the taxpayers against them? I see.

Newspapers aren’t public trusts. They don’t “speak” for you or for me. They are private companies, same as this website. They exist to make money (although many haven’t been doing that in quite some time).

Are those same reporters giving up nights and weekends and holidays, special occasions with their families, milestones with their kids, on a regular basis? Are they dealing with the same kind of stress and health risks as police officers?

Do they have to hear it, day in and day out, from the public, from the drunks, from the reckless drivers who can’t believe someone had the stones to pull THEM over?

How does the life expectancy of a police officer compare with someone who spends most of his or her working day online or on the phone?

“There is plenty of data available regarding how young we die,” one veteran officer told me. “So we aren’t collecting those pensions very long. And when we die, the pension gets cut in half for the widow.”

Yes, city cops have more dangerous jobs. But they’re working in the cities: That means more people, more weapons, more desperation — and less tax money available to pay public servants.

Remember: If they work here in Bergen, they live here. And in case you didn’t already know, it’s a pricey place to live.

As far as danger goes, view this list: The Officer Down Memorial Page . Sure, Camden and Atlantic City are high. They should be, given the circumstances. But look at some of the other numbers and the “peaceful” towns they’re connected to.

And if that isn’t enough, consider Mary Ann Collura.

The 20-year Fair Lawn police veteran, the first woman on the force and one of the most popular officers in town, didn’t know that a felon would come out shooting from a car that crashed on a church lawn the night of April 17, 2003. She wasn’t counting her pay for the week or considering whether she should boost her dental coverage.

She was simply doing a dangerous job in one of hundreds of run-of-the-mill towns in New Jersey.

Her killer was shot dead himself, down in a quiet stretch of Florida, after he opened fire on police just three days later.

Personally, I don’t care how much police make. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t pay them — or teachers — enough.

But you can knock the piss out of administrators, for all I care.

There are plenty of police departments and school districts statewide that have more than their fair share of pencil-pushers, careerists who’ve overstayed their welcome.

Whack out a bunch of those salaries and you’ll have enough to hire more street cops, more teachers. And guess what? Since no special state or federal programs have paid THEIR salaries, you’ll see your property taxes go down.

No one apparently figured those elements into their calculations.

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