A Morris County police benevolence association is accusing township administrators of retaliating against the department after officers admitted to writing fewer tickets during the COVID-19 pandemic. The department chief, however, said the allegations are false and scolded the officers for "spreading false information on social media."
Lenient enforcement efforts and lack of non-emergency ticketing by Morristown police struck a nerve with township officials, PBA Local 43 said on Facebook Sunday.
"As of recent, our members have been extremely hesitant to write tickets outside of mandatory, flagrant, or unusual circumstances," the post said. "Our community has been hit hard during this pandemic where many are unemployed and struggling to get by. Many of our local businesses have been crippled. We didn’t feel it was necessary to add to those already difficult financial circumstances.
"However our town administration has chosen to retaliate against us for doing so. Often to levels that are nothing short of irresponsible."
Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty did not immediately respond to Daily Voice's email or voicemail Monday afternoon.
Only one of the township's seven council members responded to Daily Voice's email. Township Council President Stefan Armington, Council President (3rd Ward) said he had no knowledge of the accusation.
Acting Chief Darnell Richardson denounced the allegations in a Facebook post Monday afternoon.
"Let me be clear, as the Police Chief, I make the sole decision on the operations of the Police Bureau without any interference from Town Administration," Richardson said in a Facebook post Monday. "Spreading false information on social media is reckless, unprofessional, and completely irresponsible."
The PBA accused the town of implementing mandatory walking posts at night -- as opposed to during the day -- as part of the retaliation.
“There aren’t many people out between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. in the cooler weather, yet we have officers, often three, on foot with no vehicles to respond to emergencies,” the PBA wrote.
“Frankly, it is sad that our Police officers’ union representatives consider foot patrols a punishment, especially when foot patrols are a traditional function of every police department in the country, including ours, and provide a much-needed service to parts of our community," Richardson said.
The officers on the nighttime walking posts are not equipped with emergency medical supplies like Narcan for overdoses, Oxygen and defibrillators used for cardiac arrests, they said. Of the six officers working the night shift, only three have patrol vehicles, which the association said could impact response times.
Richardson responded by saying that deployment decisions are made in response to community needs.
"As Chief, It is my responsibility to decide what is necessary to protect this community," he said. "Patrol tactics and strategies are assessed on an ongoing basis.
"Truth is that the Police Bureau has had foot patrol assignments in place in all sectors of Town for over forty years and deploys resources to staff each post as needed and as staffing levels allow."
Richardson also noted there is no ticket revenue quota.
"Police officers are simply expected to demonstrate productivity for each shift that they work, accountability that is expected of any Town employee," he said.
"It is troubling that our officers’ response to being held accountable for their hours of work is to contort that expectation into a false narrative to our residents rather than do the job they are expected to do."
The PBA post received hundreds of comments, shares and reactions from locals sharing their recent experiences amidst the changes — one commenter even responded with a photo of a Morristown officer pulling a luggage cart.
“This officer chose to load his equipment on a cart instead of being without it,” the department replied to the comment. “So he pushed a cart all night at the expense of his own dignity.”
Morristown's PBA said it refuses to "succumb to these tactics. We will not unnecessarily burden our residents who are already struggling from the pandemic. Our members will gladly stand out on foot all winter long before we are bullied into being revenue generators for a town that admittedly has a large surplus of money on hand and at their disposal."
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