An audit of the Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) that one City Council member said could have resulted in foot patrols has been stalled, at least temporarily, due to a possible conflict between the rights of the mayor and rights of the governing body.
Pointing to a rarely-used municipal law that requires periodic reviews of city departments, Councilman Rolando Lavarro Jr. tried last week to introduce a resolution to require the administration of Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy to conduct an audit and review of the JCPD.
The purpose of the review, according to Lavarro, was to determine whether police resources can be reallocated so that some officers are placed on foot patrols throughout the city.
Since the beginning of the year, residents have increasingly complained about crime in the city. In a series of town hall-style meetings on crime many residents said they would feel safer if some officers walked their beats.
“We should heed the cries of Jersey City residents who fear for their personal…safety.” – Councilman Rolando Lavarro, Jr.
Since the police department’s ability to assign foot patrols may be contingent upon funding and budget issues, Lavarro’s resolution indicated that an audit of the JCPD must be completed before the council adopts the 2012 municipal budget. Such an audit, he said, would “assist the council…in budgeting and allocation of resources to better address the public’s concerns on crime and safety.”
The 2012 city budget was introduced in March, but has yet to be adopted. In the 2012 budget, the JCPD is requesting a $4 million increase over last year’s funding allocation of $89 million.
City attorney: No go
City law actually calls for periodic operational reviews of municipal departments. According to the law, each mayoral administration is supposed to conduct department reviews after it has been in office for three years.
Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy was elected to his current term in May 2009, which means department reviews should be conducted in 2012, according to the law.
Such audits were once overseen by the Governor’s Management Improvement Program and were supposed to be conducted by National League of Cities or the New Jersey League of Municipalities.
An audit of the JCPD would, according to Lavarro, measure the “efficiency of police operations, personnel matters, budgetary matters, patrol operations, investigative operations, administrative operations, planning and development, and overall administration” of the department.
Lavarro withdrew his resolution, however, after Corporation Counsel William Matsikouis said that such an audit violated state governance laws.
In a memo to the City Council dated June 12, Matsikoudis wrote: “It is not in the city’s interest to operate on a temporary budget when a permanent budget is complete, more importantly, it would be an abdication of the council’s duty to refuse to adopt a permanent budget… because of irrelevant and questionable preconditions… [The] ordinance mandating periodic departmental studies is itself unenforceable because it violates the Faulkner Act in several respects. One, it is the mayor who can require reports of departments, but only as the mayor ‘deems desireable.’”
The Faulkner Act is a state law that designates local government structures and rules for municipalities throughout New Jersey.
Matsikoudis added that, “in order for a third party (such as the National League of Cities or New Jersey League of Municipalities) to undertake the study, a contract is required. The council can only approve a contract presented by the mayor. Neither the mayor nor the council can contract directly.”
Matsikoudis also stated that the Governor’s Management Improvement Program ended in the late 1980s and he questioned whether the National League of Cities or New Jersey League of Municipalities ever conducted reviews of municipal departments.
Lavarro pulled his resolution from the June 13 City Council agenda after receiving Matsikoudis’ memo. However, he said he is now seeking his own independent legal opinion regarding whether a governing body can mandate a review of municipal departments.
Matsikouis recommended that Lavarro try to negotiate with Mayor Healy and Jersey City Police Chief Tom Comey to initiate a review of the department themselves.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.