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Demarest approves Bergen County police merger

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

UPDATE: The newly constituted Bergen County Freeholder Board could determine whether the county police department will take over policing in Demarest, where the borough council Monday night agreed to dissolve the squad and make it the first ever to merge with the BCPD.

With the last freeholder meeting of the year set for Dec. 19, there could be a push to hold off until January, when new board members Tracy Silna Zur of Franklin Lakes and Steve Tanelli of North Arlington are sworn in.

Their victories in last month’s election tip the board majority back to Democrats, who have unanimously favored the move. Both Zur and Tanelli have said they would vote for consolidation.

That same election saw Demarest voters approve the move, 1002 to 756, in a non-binding referendum.

Demarest officials have said the borough could slice $400,000 from its expense ledger through a county takeover.

A seven-year agreement hammered out in a series of meetings is similar in some ways to the BCPD’s arrangement with Teterboro — with one major difference.

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’s 13 officers become county employees, as CLIFFVIEW PILOT was the first to report.

They would report to a chief — currently Chief James Powderley.

There would be no layoffs, authorities have said.

The Demarest rank-and-file’s collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of this year. Officers then would become part of the county bargaining unit, CLIFFVIEW PILOT has learned.

The New Jersey Civil Service Commission would analyze the duties and responsibilities of Demarest patrol officers and sergeant to make sure they conform to those of their county counterparts, as CLIFFVIEW PILOT originally reported exclusively.

Demarest’s department, which doesn’t have any lieutenants or captains, isn’t governed by state Civil Service regulations. The county agency is.

Bergen County Police Chief Brian Higgins told CLIFFVIEW PILOT 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 was part of intense talks, as Higgins and others hammered out the deal with Demarest officials.

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