Camden County begins hiring process for new county police force

Posted: October 16, 2012

Camden County officials formally began the hiring process Monday for a controversial regional police force that would replace the Camden Police Department.

The announcement came less than two weeks after the state Civil Service Commission granted the new force a temporary waiver from strict hiring rules, allowing the county to opt out for 12 months so it can more quickly fill its ranks.

"We want the best and brightest officers to police our streets and be a part of this groundbreaking organization that will fundamentally change the public safety paradigm in the region," Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli said in a statement.

The Camden force ultimately will be abolished as the county hires a planned 400 officers for its metro division, which will police only the city starting in 2013.

Suburban towns have balked at joining the county force. Police union officials in Camden have characterized the new force as a union-busting move that won't keep the city safer.

Batches of 25 officers or so will be deployed for 17- to 19-week training periods as the current force of about 270 officers continues to patrol the city, being phased out as new officers come on duty.

The transition comes on the heels of the city's 51st homicide of the year. With the killing Saturday, the city inched closer to its 1995 record of 58 homicides.

Officials on Monday posted application forms on the county website. Cappelli said "thousands" had expressed interest in joining the force.

County officials have said that while officers on the new force would earn salaries comparable to or higher than those paid by the city police department, they expect to save millions of dollars by eliminating an array of extras. The savings would let the new force field more officers.

According to figures provided by the county, current salaries for Camden patrolmen range from $47,177 to $80,191, and patrolmen on the new force would make $47,177 to $87,409.

A lieutenant's new salary range will be $106,470 to $116,630, a bump from the current $97,708 to $101,544.

County officials have said that it will cost from $5 million to $6.5 million to launch the force, but that they would save $14 million annually by eliminating such things as percentage bumps for working various shifts and additional pay for experience.

John Williamson, president of the Camden Fraternal Order of Police lodge, questioned the new salary ranges.

"If the city and the county are being truthful about their intent to realize a savings with this so-called county plan, then what's the purpose of the increased salaries?" Williamson said.

County spokesman Dan Keashen maintained that savings would come from "eliminating fringe benefits" under the city police contract, which expired four years ago.

Keashen said captains and lieutenants will be paid higher base salaries because they will no longer be eligible for overtime.

"It's standard operating procedure in most big-city police departments to exempt overtime compensation to the command staff," he said.

The county has said it will hire no more than 49 percent of the current force in order to avoid having to comply with the terms of the current union contract.

More officers could be hired if a new contract is negotiated, county officials have said.

County and union officials met last month for talks. Williamson said that the sides had not met since and that county officials had not returned calls to set up additional meetings.

Keashen said Monday that negotiations were still alive.


Contact Darran Simon at 856-779-3829 or at dsimon@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @darransimon.

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