Paterson lays off 125 police officers

April 18, 2011 4:32:14 PM PDT
Newly unemployed police officers marched outside the Public Safety Complex in Paterson on Monday, protesting the city's decision to layoffs of 125 officers - or about a quarter of the force in New Jersey's third largest city.

The officers and their union representatives wore T-shirts bearing Monday's date - the effective date of the layoffs - and carried signs with the message, "Less cops (equals) more crime."

They said the layoffs could have been avoided.

"One of the hardest things I've had to do, besides burying my mother, is saying goodbye to my (police officer) partner," said John Donofrio, one of the laid off officers. He said he worked for five years as a corrections officer before joining the Paterson force in November 2009.

"Six and a half years in the pension system, and tomorrow I'll be heading to the unemployment office," he said.

The layoffs come as the city eliminates 392 municipal positions of a total workforce of nearly 2,000 to address a $70 million budget deficit.

"We understand that this city that has given us so much has been asked to give back," said Paterson Mayor Jeffery Jones. He said grant money the city is being allowed to use for retention should enable it to rehire 25 of the laid-off officers in July.

Reassignments within the police department and more involvement from community groups will be key to keeping crime in check in a city that saw 65 shootings last year, Jones said.

"Crime is crime, but crime happens because people have given up," he said. "We need not give up."

Jones called in members of the Guardian Angels for help, and 18 members began patrolling the city on Sunday. A handful of them were recruiting Monday in front of Paterson City Hall, hoping residents would take over the effort.

Steve Olimpio, the head of Paterson's police union, said while he respected the work of the Guardian Angels, they can never make up for the cut backs.

"To bring the Guardian Angels here is like knowing the tsunami is going to hit, and having 100 bags of sand on the beaches," he said.

The layoffs in Paterson come as budget cuts across the state have forced several of New Jersey's largest cities to cut back their law enforcement operations. Hundreds of officers have been let go in Newark, Trenton, Camden and Atlantic City because of budget cuts.

An agreement in January between the union and city officials in Jersey City saved 82 police positions that were slated for layoffs.

The city of Orange secured a federal safety grant to rehire 12 laid off firefighters and hire 12 new firefighters.

Despite a few towns' successes in avoiding layoffs, the number of municipal police in New Jersey has decreased about 11 percent since the beginning of 2009, according to New Jersey State Policeman's Benevolent Association Spokesman James Ryan. Part of the decrease was attributed to officers retiring and not being replaced, he said.

At the same time, a spike in violent crime saw homicides rise by 15 percent last year over 2009 levels, the first increase in four years.

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