Morristown’s administration is forcing cops to walk late-night beats as punishment for not writing tickets during the pandemic, PBA Local 43 charged on Monday.
Acting Police Chief Darnell Richardson countered that he’s calling the shots, not town hall, and that he has assigned foot patrols since July in response to residents’ complaints about quality of life issues.
“Spreading false information on social media is reckless, unprofessional, and completely irresponsible,” Richardson said.
Mayor Tim Dougherty said he has no legal authority over police operations, and backed the acting chief.
“I have full confidence in our chief of police and how he allocates resources in the town of Morristown, especially when they are in response to resident concerns,” Dougherty told Morristown Green.
The police back-and-forth played out on Facebook, when town hall was closed in observance of Columbus Day.
Town officials would not discuss the status of contract talks with the PBA, a contentious matter in the past. Police packed a council meeting two years ago, contending they were the lowest-paid department in Morris County.
In Monday’s posting, the PBA said members have been “extremely hesitant to write tickets outside of mandatory, flagrant, or unusual circumstances.”
“Our community has been hit hard during this pandemic where many are unemployed and struggling to get by. Many of our local businesses have been crippled. We didn’t feel it was necessary to add to those already difficult financial circumstances,” the PBA statement said.
The union charged that the town has retaliated by deploying staff at “levels that are nothing short of irresponsible.”
That includes mandatory night-time walking posts from 8 pm to 2 am, in “cooler weather” where community relations benefits are limited because few people are outside. As many as three officers per shift are on foot, without patrol vehicles and their medical gear, such as defibrillators and Narcan overdose drugs, according to the union.
“This potentially leaves three vehicles to respond to emergencies while three officers are confined to a one block area depending on staffing levels. Until this is rectified, please be patient with us as calls may potentially need to be prioritized to accommodate your needs.
“We aren’t going to succumb to these tactics. We will not unnecessarily burden our residents who are already struggling from the pandemic. Our members will gladly stand out on foot all winter long before we are bullied into being revenue generators for a town that admittedly has a large surplus of money on hand and at their disposal,” the PBA said.
While ticket quotas are illegal, Richardson said, police are expected to “demonstrate productivity” on every shift to ensure the public receives the service it deserves.
“Frankly, it is sad that our Police officers’ union representatives consider foot patrols a punishment, especially when foot patrols are a traditional function of every police department in the country, including ours, and provide a much-needed service to parts of our community,” the acting chief said on the town’s public safety Facebook page.
“Let me be clear, as the Police Chief, I make the sole decision on the operations of the Police Bureau without any interference from Town Administration,” Richardson said, adding that foot patrols have been in place for more than 40 years and are assigned based on resources and community needs.
Public complaints have declined significantly, Richardson said, since he assigned a foot patrol to a neighborhood upset about loud, rowdy late-night behavior “that was not adequately addressed by a patrol car alone.”
Richardson has served as acting chief since December 2018, when the town was at odds with Police Chief Pete Demnitz, and he stayed on when Demnitz retired in June 2019. The town has not yet called for a Civil Service test to make the app
Morristown has many hardworking officers, he said. “I hope that a disgruntled few do not distract from their hard work and dedication.”
Council President Stefan Armington declined to comment on the dispute.