For 35 years as a police officer, Pete Demnitz has been a familiar sight in Morristown.
At least, he was until last December–when the police chief was placed on paid administrative leave for undisclosed reasons.
Demnitz surfaced Tuesday at the Morristown council meeting.
Dressed in civilian clothes, and still on paid leave from his $140,000-plus job, he did not discuss details about his job status.
Rather, he questioned an ordinance adopted last month that prohibits the police chief from accepting any police-related freelance jobs–apparently, even if they are unpaid appearances at a school. The measure does not apply to any other police officer.
The town was sued for more than $1 million last year by a whistle-blowing cop who challenged the chief’s outside gigs. The case is being appealed.
Demnitz told the council he felt compelled to take extra jobs because the town’s compensation system is unfair. He supports the ordinance, in theory. Freelance work, he said, should not be necessary for a police chief.
When he was promoted to chief in 2004, Demnitz was told his salary would be 12 percent higher than the highest-paid captain, he said.
“The philosophy being that you did not want your chief of police to work outside overtime, you want to pay him so he did not have to.
“Unfortunately, for the past 10 years, your chief of police has not enjoyed a 12 percent increase over the highest paid captain. In fact, on several years your chief of police has made less than your highest paid captain,” Demnitz told the council.
That 12-percent differential is not guaranteed, Demnitz said, because in Morristown the chief has no contract. Nor is he entitled to overtime.
Capt. Darnell Richardson, now the acting chief, and other officers get time-and-a-half for working events such as last weekend’s St. Patrick’s Parade, last year’s Women’s March and Black Lives Matter marches, said Demnitz, who was placed on leave on Dec. 17, 2018.
By working outside security jobs, Demnitz “was trying to make up for that lost income,” he said, adding that hourly rates from those jobs did not even match his straight pay as chief.
“I would like the council to at least research this, and in consideration for your chief of police currently, and your chief of police to come, have an equitable salary so that he does not have to work overtime,” Demnitz said.
The council did not respond to the chief’s remarks. Public Safety Director Michael Corcoran is vacationing and could not immediately be reached for comment.
Mayor Tim Dougherty said on Wednesday that he could not discuss the chief’s status because it’s a personnel matter. The ordinance is meant “to ensure that (the chief) is available and focused at all times on his primary duties to the Bureau of Police,” Dougherty said.
Last month’s ordinance spells out how administrative departments are structured. Demnitz spoke about this passage:
The Chief of Police shall not undertake any police-related employment from private employers or school districts, whether compensated or not at any time.
“The way I read that, if the (schools) superintendent says to the chief of police, ‘I want you to come to Back to School Night, I’m prohibited, or the chief of police is prohibited, from doing that. I don’t really understand that,” Demnitz added.
The mayor differs with that interpretation.
“The prohibition is on employment only. There is no prohibition on school appearances and the Chief remains permitted to support the school district as appropriate in his capacity as Chief of Police,” Dougherty said in a statement.
Last May, a civil jury unanimously ruled that Demnitz had demoted a whistleblowing detective in 2015 as retaliation for reporting the chief for allegedly moonlighting on town time.
The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office cleared Demnitz of any improprieties. But the jury awarded Officer Keith Hudson $1.7 million in damages from the town, an amount reduced to just over $1 million by a Superior Court judge.
Demnitz spoke during the public portion of Tuesday’s meeting, which allots five minutes per person.
“It’s good seeing you all and I hope to see you again soon,” he concluded.
This story has been updated to include a statement from the mayor.