Bergen County Prosecutor Mark Musella announced Thursday that he’s assuming full control of the Englewood Police Department beginning Friday.
“The present action under which the Prosecutor’s Office will assume full direction and control of the police department is occasioned by the unanticipated retirement of Englewood Chief of Police Lawrence Suffern on April 1,” Musella said in a statement.
Musella thanked Suffern “for his service to the residents of Englewood for more than 30 years, and I wish him good health and all the best in his retirement.
“I also commend the men and women of the Englewood Police Department for their dedicated service,” the prosecutor said.
“We look forward to working with them to ensure that public safety remains the priority of the department as we transition to a new leadership team,” he said.
Musella pledged to work closely with the City Council and City Manager Sonia Alves-Viveiros to find and promote qualified candidates.
Alves-Viveiros called it “an honor and pleasure” to work with Suffern and said she anticipated a joint effort "to ensure the community needs take precedence during this transition period.”
Musella placed a monitor in control of the Englewood Police Department this past December amid allegations that Suffern singled out officers for punishment by denying them extra-work opportunities.
Prosecutor’s investigators had other concerns, as well.
With a force of 80 or so sworn officers, Suffern had been at the top of a power structure that had only a single captain holding a rank of significance below him.
Englewood's PBA sued Suffern last year, claiming that he violated the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the city when he “unilaterally eliminated extra duty utility and vendor work” for certain officers without justification."
Extra-work assignments include security for schools, churches and synagogues, as well as handling traffic and other duties for utility companies and other contractors to protect public safety.
By eliminating the extra-duty work, Suffern “impose[d] a significant disability on the officers’ ability to secure future off-duty employment,” the PBA suit says.
The chief also established new uniform and facial hair requirements, it says.
The union says the moves were “part of a campaign of retaliatory efforts against PBA unit members” who approved no-confidence votes last year against Suffern's and former Deputy Chief Gregory Halstead's “integrity and competence to lead.”
Eight officers opposed the move, publicly expressing support for the chief and deputy chief. The PBA suspended the eight, who then resigned from the union and established their own Fraternal Order of Police chapter.
Soon after came a protest march that drew headlines when it sparked a brief skirmish.
March organizers blamed over overzealous officers intent on denying their rights. The PBA, in turn, said they provoked their arrests by interfering in an incident along the route.
Halstead quickly and quietly retired last December – also at the beginning of the month -- leaving questions about how and when his position would be filled and how other department operations would proceed.
Meanwhile, divisiveness has continued between community organizers and certain police officers, as well as among the chief, PBA members and other officers.
A Memorandum of Agreement between the city and his office in December temporarily suspended Suffern’s authority, giving Musella’s monitor “temporary direction and control of the internal affairs functions of the Englewood Police Department; and to review as necessary all other policies, procedures and functions of the Englewood Police Department to remedy any policy and performance deficiencies within the Englewood Police Department and to retrain its personnel as required.”
“The Monitor and supporting personnel shall have full authority to audit all past and present functions of the Englewood Police Department's internal affairs functions and to temporarily direct and control the internal affairs functions of the Englewood Police Department without limitation, including the direction of all Englewood Police Department personnel in the performance of their internal affairs duties, the investigation of all internal affairs matters, and the resolution of all internal affairs investigations, including the charging of all Englewood Police Department personnel,” the agreement says.
The monitor will have “broad authority to review all other policies, procedures and functions of the Englewood Police Department to ensure that those policies, procedures and functions are in compliance with Attorney General and BCPO directives and guidelines and proper law enforcement policy, procedure and practice,” it adds.
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