Officer complained that trips left N.J. city short-handed

Mayor was also along for trip
February 19, 2008 10:12:38 AM PST
Police night shifts were left short-handed when a now-disbanded SWAT unit traveled to Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina, according to a newspaper report.One trip, for Mardi Gras float security from Feb. 18 to March 2, 2006, created a "dangerous public safety condition" by taking four officers from the midnight to 8 a.m. shift, according to a memo by Lt. Mark Competello, The Jersey Journal reported Tuesday. The other trip, to aid New Orleans suburb of Kenner, La., was from Sept. 27 to 29, 2005.

Competello has since been demoted to sergeant. He has appealed the demotion, asserting it was in retaliation for his complaints about staffing and other issues.

The staffing situation is the latest controversy involving the Hoboken police department, which has been under scrutiny since racy pictures emerged last year from the trips to the New Orleans area.

Some of the photos featured Chief Carmen LaBruno and Lt. Angelo Andriani, who headed the SWAT unit.

The SWAT unit was disbanded in November soon after Public Safety Director Bill Bergin took office.

He acknowledged that the Competello memos were authentic, but told the newspaper, "I would strongly doubt that any shift was left short-handed to send men down there (to New Orleans)."

The 2005 trip reduced staffing by 23 percent on the midnight to 8 a.m. shift, while the 2006 trip cut that shift's staffing by 16 percent, according to records provided by the city's corporation counsel, Steven Kleinman, following an Open Public Records Act request by The Jersey Journal.

The Hudson County prosecutor in January said he would not pursue criminal charges against officers, but said the department needed to address administrative issues.