First reading of ordinance abolishing police chief approved

IRVINGTON, NJ — Irvington’s chief of police may be no more. At least the position, that is.
The Municipal Council voted unanimously Wednesday, Dec. 28, to approve on first reading a new ordinance that would abolish the position of chief of police from the chain of command within the Irvington Police Department’s hierarchy.

“East Ward Councilman Paul Inman was absent,” from the meeting, according to Township Clerk Harold Weiner on Monday, Jan. 11. “Everyone else voted ‘yes.’”

The second reading of Ordinance No. 8-B-1 was scheduled to take place Tuesday, Jan. 12, at the council’s regularly scheduled meeting. The new ordinance is an amendment to several existing ordinances, including Ordinance No. MC 3553, which consolidated the township’s existing Police, Fire and Parking departments into the new Public Safety Department. That ordinance was unanimously passed by the council Wednesday, Oct. 14.

That vote, however, came with a warning from police Chief Michael Chase, who said Ordinance No. MC 3553 violates state law. Chase wrote letters complaining about the council’s approval of the ordinance to the state attorney general and the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.

“The reason I’m concerned is New Jersey state law states: ‘In the absence of the chief of police, the next highest ranking and sworn police officer shall be responsible for the efficiency routine day to day operations of the police force,” Chase said Wednesday, Oct. 14.

“It goes on to state: ‘A person who is designated by ordinance as the appropriate authority — meaning the mayor, business manager or such other appropriate executive or administrative officer — does not acquire and is not conferred police powers by virtue of that designation and such appropriate authority shall not exercise police powers to perform police duties,’” said Chase.

However, Mayor Tony Vauss said the council’s final passage of Ordinance No. 8-B-1 would rectify any illegalities Chase referred to.

“We need for police and fire to work together as a unit as opposed to separate entities,” Vauss said Monday, Jan. 11. “It’s a trend that many other communities are starting to follow. East Orange just appointed a public safety director and Newark is about to follow suit. And I think you will find many other communities doing the same thing pretty soon.”

Vauss said abolishing the police chief’s position from the Police Department’s hierarchy will be first and foremost, calling it “a cost-saving measure.” Vauss has appointed retired Irvington police Capt. Tracey Bowers to serve as Irvington’s first public safety director. Bowers had previously served as police director.

“The Police Department Table of Organization still has a deputy chief,” Vauss said. “You can still achieve the rank of deputy chief. Unfortunately, Chief Chase decided to write the attorney general and Prosecutor’s Office and file a complaint. The response we got from them pretty much sided with him. The only difference they said was that, because we had a municipal ordinance stating that, because you have a chief of police, then the day-to-day operations must go to the next highest ranking officer in the department. Quite frankly, that is what prompted us to change the ordinance now and abolish the police chief’s position right now. This is nothing personal directed at anyone in particular.”

Council President Charnette Frederic agreed with Vauss, saying that the mayor, his administration and the Municipal Council are trying to make Irvington clean and safe, something all their constituents want too.
“Again, the objective of our Public Safety Department is to unify the department and provide the needed service to our residents,” Frederic said Monday, Jan. 11.

“The Vauss administration has a clear vision on how to deliver it to our residents. As council president, I am looking forward to a safer 2016.”

Vauss and Frederic said Ordinance No. 8-B-1 is: “An ordinance to repeal, amend and supplement certain portions of an ordinance titled ‘An Ordinance Adopting an Administrative Code for the Township of Irvington, New Jersey,’” and its purpose is: “to provide a Department of Public Safety and the divisions of Police, Fire and Parking within that department.”

In the past, according to municipal statute and state law, only the police chief was allowed to run the Irvington Police Department’s day-to-day affairs. In the absence of the chief, the highest ranking officer in the department at the time would be the designated senior officer in charge of running the department’s day-to-day affairs until the chief returned.

After the Council approved consolidating the township’s Police and Fire departments into the new Public Safety Department last year, with a public safety director and assistant public safety director, the positions of police and fire director ceased to exist.