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No layoffs under ‘true merger’ of Demarest, Bergen County police departments

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

EXCLUSIVE: The police departments from Demarest and Bergen County could form an historic merger that would transform the locals into county officers and give the community “enhanced police services,” under a plan to be disclosed tonight.

There would be no layoffs, although it was unclear what positions Demarest Police Chief James Powderley and Deputy Chief David Hoagland would seek.

Among the details that still need to be finalized is the length of the deal. A six-year contract originally was on the table, but a source told CLIFFVIEW PILOT that could change. State officials clearly prefer lengthy agreements on shared services contracts.

The New Jersey Civil Service Commission would also analyze the duties and responsibilities of Demarest patrol officers and sergeant to make sure they conform to those of their county counterparts, CLIFFVIEW PILOT has also learned. Demarest’s department, which doesn’t have any lieutenants or captains, isn’t governed by state Civil Service regulations. The county agency is.

For the deal to happen, it must be approved by both the Demarest Council, which will review the proposed contract at a public meeting tonight, and the Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

Bergen County Police Chief Brian Higgins last week said that “police services will not only be provided at the level the public in Demarest has come to expect,” if the deal is approved. “It will exceed their expectations.

“This could be a pro-county, pro-municipal and pro-union merger,” Higgins said.

Residents “will wake up the next morning and not know the difference except for the new patch and badge,” he said (Both departments’ uniforms are strikingly similar).

“This could become a model for the state,” Higgins said, adding that he knows of no other police agencies in New Jersey who’ve forged such an arrangement.

“There are plenty of shared services agreements,” he said, “but no true mergers.”

The state Division of Community Affairs has been part of intense talks the past several weeks, as Higgins and others hammered out the deal with Demarest officials.

Instead of dissolving the Demarest department or having it taken over by the BCPD, the contract spells out a merger under the New Jersey Shared Services Act — which means that Demarest officers become county employees.

Powderley and Hoagland would have to negotiate their new positions with county officials. It’s unclear at this point what either will do.

If they become captains, Powderley and Hoagland would be entitled to certain rights and privileges, such as being able to work side jobs. Higgins serves as chief, under the deal.

As for the Demarest rank-and-file, their collective bargaining agreement extends through the end of this year. Both sides intend to honor that deal, so that the interests of all union members are protected, CLIFFVIEW PILOT has learned. Officers then would become part of the county bargaining unit.

Demarest would pay a so-far-undisclosed fee to help cover costs of the arrangement. How much this could save the borough over the cost of current operations remains an open question.

Next month, Demarest voters will be asked whether or not they think the municipal department should be dissolved and the county be given authority for policing the borough, in what is a non-binding Election Day referendum.

Demarest officials said they want to disclose details of the proposed pact tonight to help voters decide. They said they want to wait to determine the will of the people before voting on the shared services contract.

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