Trenton lays off a third of its police force

Trenton police officers embrace as they walk away on Friday after they lined up their police boots after being laid off by the city.
Trenton police officers embrace as they walk away on Friday after they lined up their police boots after being laid off by the city. (MEL EVANS / Associated Press)
Posted: September 17, 2011

TRENTON - New Jersey's capital city laid off nearly one-third of its 350-member police force Friday, becoming the fourth cash-strapped major city in the state to lay off at least 10 percent of its police force in the past year.

The layoffs of 105 Trenton officers - which came in addition to the recent retirements of three officers, who will not be replaced - will help the city close a budget deficit that grew partly out of slashed aid from the state government.

But the layoffs, based on seniority, leave the department trying to figure out how to fight crime.

"I can't make up the work of 108 guys," lamented Acting Police Capt. Mark Kieffer just before an emotional ceremony in front of the department headquarters in which about 60 laid-off officers set their boots on the sidewalk and received one last salute.

Trenton and New Jersey's other urban centers have long relied on money from the state government to help balance their budgets. In Trenton, that aid in the past has accounted for more than one-fourth of the budget.

The task has become much more difficult as the state has cut its aid over the last two years. Mayor Tony Mack said the city received $55 million in special aid from the state last year. This year, the figure was about $27 million.

Police layoffs were originally planned for last year, but Mack called them off, hoping he could wangle some more money to keep the officers.

"We wanted to make sure that was our last option," he said.

Mack said Friday that he could not hold out any longer.

He said the layoffs would save the city $4 million in the current fiscal year and more in the future when the city is off the hook for paying unemployment benefits for the laid-off officers.

Officials expect that 18 officers can be reinstated next month through a federal grant and hope that more grants later will help return additional officers.

Cities across the state reluctantly laid off police over the past year for similar reasons to Trenton's.

The state's largest city, Newark, trimmed its force by 15 percent late last year. Atlantic City, home of the state's casino's industry, and Camden, its most impoverished and crime-ridden city, have also had deep cuts but have been able to cobble together money, largely through grants, to rehire many officers.

The effect on crime in those cities is not clear. Experts on criminology are split on the degree to which police cuts lead to more crime.

The mayor said he's asking state police to do more to protect the downtown areas where thousands of state workers have offices. The department has also demoted 27 officers, a move that pushes many detectives and some department brass back to the street.

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