ORANGE, NJ — The Orange City Council voted unanimously to approve Resolution No. 327-2016 to accept grant funds from the U.S. Department of Justice for the 216 COPS Officer Hiring Program at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 18.
East Ward Councilman Kerry Coley, a retired Orange police officer, praised the hiring of six new police officers, thanks to the grant, but added it should have been done years ago.
“Our grant writer consultant told me that the administration never gave them the green light to go after police grants,” said Coley on Tuesday, Oct. 25. “I think the grant is great. Any time you’re talking about we have grant money to hire officers, it’s a great thing. It’s going to come down to getting the officers off the state certified list; doing the background check, which takes about four to six months, and then getting the recruits into a cadet class at the police academy. When those slots in the academy classes get taken up — and here comes Orange with six to eight candidates, but we’re told the class is closed up —what are you going to do?”
The COPS grant is not a guarantee the six new officers it funds will be ready to protect and serve Orange any time soon, Coley said, which is why it’s important to institute a new and better grant-application process in the city and a full-fledged recruitment drive as soon as possible.
“It has to start months and months prior,” said Coley. “You have to have people in the landing path ready to do. So what if you have one or two more officers in your table of organization? It’s always a fluctuation of numbers. It’s like an NFL roster. It’s always fluid because something always happens and you need guys that are ready to go. You have to have guys on standby ready to go. That’s how this public safety thing works. It how you keep your city safe. But I’m confident now that we have a quality (business administrator) that really understands all of this, once we get through some other issues, we can really get to that point.”
Coley is not the only council member concerned. North Ward Councilwoman Tency Eason was quick to ask newly confirmed business administrator Chris Hartwyk to elaborate further about the COPS grant and the officers subsequently hired.
“Can you talk about (how) the police department just got the grant to hire six new officers?” asked Eason, who serves as the governing body’s liaison to the Orange Police Department, on Tuesday, Oct. 18.
City Council President Donna K. Williams concurred. Their concerns stem from a “brief carjacking spree” detailed in an email blast sent earlier on Tuesday, Oct. 18, from the Warren administration, describing how two men, “aged 18 and 20 years old, were apprehended separately in East Orange after crashing a 2007 Toyota Rav4 into a telephone pole on Kenilworth and Webster in Orange.
“Orange police, with the assistance of East Orange law enforcement officers, arrested the two men after crashing the SUV, which was reported stolen during a carjacking earlier in the week. Police believe the suspects are responsible for a string of carjackings in the area. No one was hurt in the crash or the pursuit.”
“While the units were obstructing, the concentration of their efforts resulted in arrest,” said Hartwyk on Tuesday, Oct. 18. According to Hartwyk, permission to install cameras in the area of Hickory and Taylor streets has been secured.
“Our officers, with the assistance of East Orange police, have taken two dangerous criminals off our streets before anyone could be hurt,” said Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren in his Oct. 18 email blast. “This is our professional law enforcement at its finest.”
But Coley wasn’t so sure about that, insisting the number of police officers in Orange must increase, in order to provide the necessary community protection.
“I would say we’re about 20 to 25 guys under strength, minimum,” said Coley on Tuesday, Oct. 18. “It’s somewhere around there. The table of organization pretty much comes from the state, when they come out to do an assessment, based on your size. If I recall correctly, we should have been, at a minimum staffing level, about 134 guys to cover a town the size of Orange, if you want to do all of the things that you want to do — walking patrols, school resources officers, information gathering, etc. — if you want to have a real impact, not just policing your community.”
But Coley said the COPS grant for six new police officers “Is a good start.”
“Hopefully, next year, when we get a new governor in that‘s more friendly to the people of Orange, we can get more funding for our police, our schools, so it can take some of the burden off of the overburdened taxpayers here in Orange,” continued Coley. “This is why this governor’s race is so important here in Orange and throughout the rest of the state. When people only see cops when there is a crisis, that’s not good. If you have more police actively, positively engaging people, they will feed you information about what’s going on. Hopefully, we’ll get back to that.”