These are many of the same reasons that Prospect Park’s police union has declared a vote of no-confidence in the borough’s mayor, as well as its council majority, who are about to place a civilian in charge of their police department.
Police and public safety directors often work well in cities – take Paterson, for instance, which has nearly 160,000 residents, or Newark, which has more than 300,000 residents and nearly 1,300 police officers.
Directors in the cities are ordinarily veteran law enforcement officers with extensive experience in urban policing.
They have the education as well as the street smarts. They stay out of their police chiefs’ way – and often keep them shielded, in fact, by fielding the tough questions from the media and spending a good deal of time interacting with the public themselves.
Such appointees became way more political in smaller areas, however.
As of two years ago, Prospect Park had a population of roughly 6,350 people. It currently has 19 officers in a department with whom the community hasn’t had any major issues.
Yet Mayor Mohamed Khairullah and five of six council members think a micromanager is necessary.
Police chiefs aren’t made overnight. They get bachelor's degrees – and often more – while working their way up the ranks. They belong to professional organizations that keep them in step with the ever-changing demands and challenges of police work. They also end up being the ones who must respond to disciplinary issues within their departments.
Civilian police directors need no formal education. They don’t even need police experience. They come from various other backgrounds and aren’t required to have any law enforcement training whatsoever.
They can’t carry a gun, wear a badge, operate a police vehicle, issue an order or even access an investigative report.
They attend public gatherings to visit with the citizenry and department meetings to scrutinize crime data while monitoring day-to-day operations. They also connect with the local schools.
Then they report back to the group of civilians who hired them.
Khairullah and those council members who agree with him took the first step on Monday, Feb. 27, by introducing an ordinance that would create a civilian police director’s post.
All they need do now is vote to approve it at a second reading on March 20 and the position is created.
The entire affair has angered members of Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 114. They see money wasted and an already strained relationship with their elected officials being damaged beyond repair.
Patrolman Gregory Williams, the union’s president, told them that in so many words.
Membership has already been frustrated by elected officials sitting on a federal grant of half a million dollars received in November 2021 to hire four officers, he said. Instead, overtime costs are ballooning and officers are feeling the stress, the union chief said.
“We, as the PBA, have now lost all confidence in your ability to support us in the police department moving forward,” Williams said during a public meeting Monday night. “We’re saddened, disappointed and truly hurt by your decision to implement this obvious power grab.”
The result is a no-confidence vote in Khairullah, who was recently elected to a fifth term, and five of six council members (the sixth, Councilman Alaa Matari, is a cousin of Police Chief Ammen Matari and a sergeant in the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office).
The mayor countered that he might not fill the position once its created and that the police chief’s job wasn’t being eliminated.
He said he’d be “out of my mind” to try and seize power over the police department and pledged that a director would assume “every single authority I have.”
The police union isn’t buying it, however.
Williams elaborated on the no-confidence vote in a release issued on behalf of his members, a copy of which he emailed to Daily Voice.
“The members of the Prospect Park Policeman's Benevolent Association Local 114 have issued a VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE in the abilities of Mayor Mohamed T. Khairullah, Council President Mohammed Hussain, Councilwoman Felicia Ortiz, Councilman Robert Artis, Councilman Anand Shah, and Councilwoman Esther Perez, to effectively and impartially, govern, lead, provide the proper staffing, equipment, and funding for the Prospect Park Police Department.
“The PBA has addressed multiple violations of the Collective Bargaining Agreement directly to Mayor Khairullah and Borough Administrator Intashan Chowhury on countless occasions with manpower shortages being of the upmost importance.
“We have received little to no response or action to rectify said shortage.
The Mayor has continually and unprofessionally reminded the PBA that he is the ‘APPROPRIATE AUTHORITY’ and that he alone makes any and all personnel decisions at his leisure. Mayor Khairullah continually rebuffs the union's efforts to discuss its concerns to this date.
“The police department was granted a federal COPS Grant of $500,000 to hire four (4) Police Officers in early November 2021 in which the Mayor has failed to fully utilize.
“The total cost of the first year for the hiring of four (4) Police Officers would have cost the Borough's taxpayers $50,000. Instead, Mayor Khairullah failed to properly staff the police department or utilize the COPS grant over the past several years.
“The police department's overtime cost was at a record high in 2022 exceeding $160,000 of taxpayer dollars. Much of this overtime was officers being ordered in for duty on a constant basis on their days off against their own wishes.
“This caused them to be over worked and mentally and physically drained. This jeopardized the safety of our officers and the public at large. The members were also unable to utilize their allotted time off in a reasonable manner.
“Over the course of the last two years this has caused the morale within our police department to plummet to an all-time low.
“Additionally, not only did this severely impact the police department's morale, but it was also an egregious mismanagement of taxpayer dollars.
“The PBA is aware that the police administration has addressed these issues and concerns directly both verbally and in writing to the Mayor and the Borough Administrator countless times to no avail.
“The entire membership attended the February 6, 2023, Mayor, and Council meeting to stand in solidarity due to the position of a Police Director being proposed as a topic of discussion. The membership addressed Mayor Khairullah and the governing body publicly in their full opposition of creating a Police Director position.
“The PBA further expressed to the governing body that we have been severely understaffed for the past two years and the staffing levels are at DANGEROUSLY low levels due to several upcoming retirements in 2023.
“The PBA then pleaded to the governing body that filling the Police Department's Table of Organization should be of its utmost priority far before entertaining the creation of a needless Police Director.
“The members wanted to formally advise the governing body there is a problem in the police department and to seek assistance in solving that problem, but no action has been taken.
“All the members' concerns were never addressed, and the governing body has now proceeded to the creation of a resolution to hire a Police Director at the Borough Council Meeting on February 27, 2023 which was passed via a council 5-1 with ONLY Councilman Alaa Matari abstaining.
“This act will uselessly spend even more taxpayer dollars to obtain and fulfill Mayor Khairullah's agenda of total Dictatorial control.
“The PBA believes that the creation of this position is solely for the pleasure of the Mayor to have indirect say in the police department's day-to-day operations.
“The political appointment of a Police Director is the first of this department's history. The PBA is aware that no jurisdiction other than major cities and universities that utilize the position of Police Director to manage their respected department's needs.
“It is obvious that this is Mayor Khairullah's way to avoid violating the New Jersey State Title 40 laws by interfering with day-to-day operations of the police department which he has done countless times during his tenure as Mayor.
“The Police Director position is completely unnecessary and interferes with the advancement and direction of all the member's careers and family's futures. The Mayor has deliberately created an increasingly hostile and toxic work environment jeopardizing the mental and physical health of our members.
“IJsing his approach through his Borough Administrator, the PBA is aware that multiple employees of the Mayor's municipal staff share the same concerns our members do. The borough has seen a revolving door-like atmosphere in staffing over the past few years both on the police department and municipal employee end. This also resulted in needless litigation against the borough which again creates useless spending of taxpayer dollars.
“We have lost valuable officers and municipal staff due to the state of morale which was led to a dysfunctional and harassing workplace directly created by Mayor Khairullah and Borough Administrator Chowdhury.
“The members of the PBA have seen first-hand that Mayor Khairullah only moves swiftly in hiring personnel or promoting personnel of his choice when a political gain is at stake. He does not take the need of PROPER police staffing for the righteousness of public safety nor the safety of the police department into consideration.
“The PBA strongly believes that Mayor Khairullah's agenda of hiring any personnel qualified or UNQUALIFIED is solely based on politics.
“The only opposition to this declaration was the fear many of our members expressed regarding future acts of retaliation perpetrated by the Mayor because of this action. We believe that fact, in and of itself, speaks volumes regarding the current climate within our police department.
“The PBA has become aware that the Mayor utilizes these same tactics to influence the way his Council proceeds with their voting on many agendas to achieve his goal of complete and total control.
“We as a union have concluded that Mayor Khairullah largely fails to recognize any authority outside of himself or his position therefore issuing this VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE in him.
“The PBA no longer feels confident that Mayor Khairullah is motivated or fit to serve the police department impartially and only knows the way of the autocrat, it's my way or the highway approach.”
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