Newark lays off officers; Guardian Angels to patrol

November 30, 2010 3:12:05 PM PST
More than 150 police officers lost their jobs Tuesday after negotiations between their union and New Jersey's largest city broke off, reducing the police force as violent crime has started to rise after three years of decline.

The layoffs began at midnight Monday and were to continue through 4 p.m. Tuesday when remaining officers finished their shifts, Police Director Garry McCarthy said. The 167 layoffs mark the city's largest force reduction in 32 years.

Mayor Cory A. Booker criticized the Fraternal Order of Police for an "unwillingness to make one penny's worth of concessions in order to save jobs" and noted that all other city employee unions had made concessions in recent months. He also slammed the union's executive board for rejecting the city's demands without putting them to a vote by the full membership.

FOP President Derrick Hatcher defended the union's actions and said its proposals could have saved the officers' jobs and maintained the existing contract.

"To put it out for a vote would basically be renegotiating our contract," he said.

Earlier Tuesday, Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa said Tuesday that the anti-crime group would send members from New York City to patrol parts of Newark.

"Hopefully a settlement can be reached, but in the interim we're asking a lot of our New York Angels to spend time over in Newark," Sliwa said. "Newark's done a great job driving down the crime rate, and they don't deserve this."

McCarthy, who said he knows Sliwa from his days with the New York Police Department, said he would welcome any help; Hatcher called the group's efforts "a waste of time."

"We can do our policing ourselves," Hatcher said. "It's going to create more of a nuisance than a benefit for the city."

Violent crime in Newark dropped sharply from the end of 2006, Booker's first year in office, until last year. But it has begun to creep back up, with murders, rapes and robberies up between 6 and 12 percent compared to last year, according to police department statistics.

Booker and McCarthy both said Tuesday that the layoffs wouldn't significantly affect the number of officers on the street, the result of a restructuring that will reassign higher-ranking officers to patrol duty.

Booker said that even with the layoffs, Newark still has more police per capita than any city in the state.

The layoffs were announced this fall to offset what Booker characterized as an $11 million budget gap. The jobs of about 400 white-collar workers also were in jeopardy Tuesday. David Fox, an attorney representing the police and white-collar unions, said that negotiations were continuing.

The layoffs initially were scheduled for Nov. 12 and threatened the jobs of nearly 100 firefighters as well as 112 high-ranking officers who faced demotion. Unions sued, and the city reached settlements to avoid the firefighter layoffs and police demotions.

A state Superior Court judge gave the remaining parties a 10-day extension until Nov. 22. During that time, the city went back to court to cut the extension short but was denied. Booker then gave the police and white-collar union another week to reach an agreement.

Over the weekend before Thanksgiving, Booker announced a proposal to avoid the layoffs through cuts in overtime, pay deferrals and furloughs that he said would save $6.8 million, but the police union rejected the proposal. The union had proposed $2.7 million in cuts that it said would cover the officers specifically targeted for layoffs.

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