Morristown mayor, council members back police chief in PBA dispute

Councilwoman Tawanna Cotten, second row center, praises police foot patrols during Morristown Council virtual meeting, Oct. 13, 2020. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin
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Police foot patrols are welcomed by Morristown public housing residents, according to their council representative, who is backing the acting police chief in a very public dispute with the PBA.

Councilwoman Tawanna Cotten, pictured during 2019 campaign. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“I have heard from residents who are very happy to have our officers walking around, allowing them to feel safe,” Second Ward Councilwoman Tawanna Cotten said at Tuesday’s virtual council meeting.

Morristown PBA Local 43 posted on social media this week that town hall was forcing cops to walk night beats as punishment for easing up on tickets during the pandemic.

The union which is working without a contract, vowed that members would not be “bullied into being revenue generators for a town that admittedly has a large surplus of money on hand and at their disposal.”

Acting Police Chief Darnell Richardson runs hose to fire at DeHart Street parking deck, Jan, 21, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Acting Police Chief Darnell Richardson runs hose to fire at DeHart Street parking deck, Jan, 21, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

That brought a sharp response from Acting Police Chief Darnell Richardson.

Labeling the charges false, reckless and unprofessional, he posted that ticket quotas are illegal, foot patrols are effective, and he assigned them this summer after residents requested greater police visibility.

Richardson also heard praise Tuesday from Council Vice President Toshiba Foster and Mayor Tim Dougherty, who reiterated his “100 percent” support for the chief while accusing the PBA of “misleading” the public regarding an alleged lack of patrol vehicles.

The PBA leadership “clearly isn’t speaking the truth,” said Dougherty, a union man himself, adding “the rank and file might want to take a deep, hard look at who represents the interests of the Morristown police department.”

Mayor Tim Dougherty weighs in at virtual council meeting, Oct. 13, 2020. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin

Dougherty said Morristown has spent “millions” on police vehicles and equipment, and hired 25 officers over the last 11 years.

“That’s a lot for a 2.9 square-mile town. Twenty-five police officers have been hired under my watch. So I’m not sure what the motive is behind the PBA in that misleading and false statement they made,” he said.

Responding on Wednesday, PBA President Dennis Bergman said neither the chief nor the mayor addressed the union’s underlying message:

“That we were punished by having our vehicles taken from our three foot posts officers in retaliation for not further burdening our residents with unnecessary summonses during a pandemic that has unquestionably impacted our community.”

Police “will gladly walk foot posts,” Bergman said. But having a patrol car and its life-saving equipment nearby is important, he said, asserting on social media that some officers on foot patrol were delayed in responding to a serious pedestrian accident on Sunday.

Morristown PBA Local 43 members during a ‘No Shave November’ cancer fundraiser. Photo. Morristown Bureau of Police

More commonly associated with charity food drives and Cops and Rodders car shows than with controversy, the PBA occasionally has spoken out during contract talks. In 2018, members told the council they were the lowest paid department in Morris County.

Cotten thanked Richardson for acting upon complaints she relayed from residents of Manahan Village upset by loiterers leaving refuse in streets, smoking under apartment windows, and making so much noise that tenants had to blast their air conditioners to drown it out.

“I really want to say I appreciate the officers. It is unfortunate that some of them feel that (foot patrols are) a bad thing, because we actually appreciate them. So, again I can’t thank the chief of police enough. He’s done a wonderful job,” said Cotten, a resident of Manahan Village since 2011.

She said it was important for police to demonstrate they cared about residents who felt unsafe but could not afford to move elsewhere.

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At least one Manahan Village resident does not share that view, however.

Gia Davis asked for crime statistics to justify singling out the Black neighborhood  for foot patrols and round-the-clock video surveillance.

“Why aren’t foot patrols and a 24-hour police presence being done at places such as Wetmore, Cutler Park or Thomas Jefferson?” she said, referring to predominantly white neighborhoods.

“Are the police being used as Manahan Village’s own personal security, to intimidate and harass residents and their visitors?” Davis asked during the Zoom session.

Surveillance cameras are common in densely populated apartment complexes, and are deployed in public spaces at Manahan Village to enhance public safety, said Councilman David Silva, who is liaison to the Morristown Housing Authority.

The housing authority received a $250,000 federal grant for security cameras in 2015, Cotten said.

“People have the right to feel secure, to feel safe,” Cotten said. “And with the officers walking around, it does give our residents that sense of safety.”

Foster, the council vice president, echoed that she, too, had received periodic complaints from Manahan Village residents seeking a greater police presence. The acting chief and Public Safety Director Michael Corcoran Jr. have been responsive, she said.

“I think our Morristown Police Department has done an excellent job in responding to calls, and just trying to address all the citizens in the town of Morristown,” Foster said.

This story has been updated with comments from the PBA president.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the police are working without a contract. Morristown Green regrets the error.

 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Chief Richardson has been leading the police dept for almost 2 years. Why is he still an “acting” chief?

    Why do we have a high-salaried Public Safety Director? This is a fairly new position in the town and while we have more bars nowadays, which might justify more foot patrols, I don’t remember the justification for this entirely new publicly funded position.

    Couldn’t police still do foot patrols but have a vehicle parked somewhere in the vicinity? If the concern is that they’d sit in their cars instead of walking around, that could be monitored and addressed rather than stranding them.

  2. Mayor tim should worry about his families current and pending legal problems. It’s not a surprise the mayor and council support an acting chief who they wrongfully appointed. Hold a civil service test and do it the right way, don’t just hand it to a yes man. We residents should be very concerned about a police chief who strips his officers of their vehicles and necessary equipment to protect themselves and the citizens they serve. The acting chief, mayor and council will be the ones to blame when an officer who doesn’t have a vehicle and his equipment is injured or can’t provide the necessary care to a person they encounter.

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