TC discusses police matters at meeting

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The Maplewood Township Committee considered several police matters at its Feb. 19 meeting, including potentially increasing the membership of the Community Board on Police by one person and lowering the age requirement of the youth member from 18 to 16. The committee also discussed the possibility of adding a member of the governing body as appropriate authority for the police department and updating the “Welcoming Community” resolution to account for changes from the state Attorney General’s Office.

According to Committeeman Dean Dafis, the members of the Community Board on Police recommended to the Township Committee that there be an addition of one more adult voting member. Dafis also said the board wants to lower the age of the one youth member position in an effort to expand outreach to fill the position. According to Dafis, the CBP recommended lowering the youth position age to 14 from the current requirement of 18 to 21 years old.

“The rationale is to get us from an even to an odd number and to include diversity on the board and have a board that is better representative of the community it’s serving,” Dafis said at the meeting. “Despite trying significant outreach to find an older youth member, it’s been unsuccessful. Maybe the best way to get youth buy-in on this board is to go to the middle school and early high school level and have the school district send us people to consider on an annual rotation.”

Deputy Mayor Frank McGehee said he would recommend that the board lower the age to no younger than 16.

“Having a 14-year-old on this board I have strong reservations about,” McGehee said at the meeting. “I would be against that. I would say 16 should be the minimum with the type of material that this board will be exposed to.”

Dafis said that the board’s recommendation came from wanting the youth member to represent the age in the town that the position would affect. McGehee said that he believes a 16- or 17-year-old would be able to represent those children.

“I think that if we work with the Board of Education, I’d like to go that route first,” McGehee said. “They can proactively help us reach out to the 2,000 high school students and we can go from there.”

The Township Committee quickly agreed to add another adult member to the CBP with little discussion.

Moving on, Committeeman Greg Lembrich discussed the possibility of appointing a Township Committee member — along with business administrator Sonia Alves-Viveiros — as the appropriate authority. The person in this role takes charge of personnel issues and handles oversight in township departments.

“This is something that I think is a move that is good for government overall, particularly in light of the increased scrutiny and interest in our police department in the past few years,” Lembrich said at the meeting. “I think for the purposes of transparency with the governing body, accountability and oversight, having an elected official be part of the appropriate authority, along with the administrator, would be a good step in ensuring that someone who was elected by and is accountable to the public would have insight into those rules.”

According to Lembrich, there were many questions asked regarding the incident of July 5, 2016, that the Township Committee was not able to answer due to not having the information. When Mayor Vic DeLuca asked why the police department should have a member of the TC as the appropriate authority, Lembrich said it is due to public interest.

“I think the role of appropriate authority is a little bit different with respect to the police department in terms of dealing with information that is not currently available to the Township Committee,” Lembrich said. “I think there’s a lot of public interest and public concern in the operations of the police department that I just don’t think we see the same level of public concern with respect to other departments.”

Township attorney Roger Desiderio said at the meeting that making a member of the Township Committee appropriate authority might not solve the problem, because they would still not be able to reveal confidential information to the public.

“I think they would be bound by the same restrictions that the appropriate authority is bound by,” Desiderio said. “I don’t believe that they would be able to share that information with the public or with any of you. I’m not sure this is a solution to that problem.”

At the meeting, Lembrich also talked about updating the “Welcoming Community” resolution, which tells police officers what they can and cannot do with respect to asking a person about their immigration status or searching them based on immigration status.

“Late in 2018 the attorney general issued some new guidelines, which replaced the 2007 guidelines,” Lembrich said. “I’d like to update the resolution to be consistent with that. I think it’s an update that we should make and we probably have to make given the attorney general’s directive.”

DeLuca agreed, saying that the new guidelines are easier to understand.

“The attorney general’s order is much better than the previous one,” he said at the meeting. “It’s much clearer and it gets rid of some of those more ambiguous positions that we would have to take.”