Officers' jobs at stake in Camden police vote

Posted: January 25, 2013

Camden's embattled police officers, facing the elimination of their department, on Thursday may face one of their most important career decisions - a vote on proposed contract terms that offer less than an ironclad promise of employment on a new county force.

If the terms are agreed on by next Thursday, and officers apply to the new force by that day, the county said it would "consider for hiring" all of them, rather than only up to 49 percent, as officials were planning to do to avoid having to comply with more generous, expired police union contracts.

Officers interviewed Wednesday, while generally dismayed that there was no guarantee all of them would be hired for the new force, expressed differing views on which way they were likely to vote on what the county has called its final offer.

"Yes, I am loyal to my brothers and sisters in blue, but in order of importance, my loyalty lies with my kids, my wife, and my bank," said one veteran patrolman who spoke on condition that his name not be used. "It comes down to putting food on the table and paying my bills and my mortgage."

About 260 officers were given layoff notices this month. The veteran officer said the proposed terms were not ideal, but approving them could reinstate many of the officers.

Among the proposed terms: the Fraternal Order of Police, Camden's rank-and-file union, would continue to represent those officers.

Camden officers who put in at least 20 years in the state pension system as of the deadline would have the option of taking early retirement.

But the union would have to dismiss all pending litigation and agree not to fight the force in court or file for arbitration for a year.

"They're asking us to sign away all of our rights and go over at their whim," said another veteran patrolman, who indicated he would oppose the deal.

Union president John Williamson said written terms would be presented to the membership on Thursday and a vote might be held right away.

A detective, who alleged that the plan was racially motivated, said he planned to vote against the proposal.

"This is not happening in any other town than Camden, which has so many black cops," the detective said. "If this plan was so good, why don't you do it in Cherry Hill, Evesham, and Moorestown?"

The department's makeup is 45 percent black, 35 percent Hispanic, and 20 percent white, Williamson said.

A county spokesman responded that the new force has based its "candidate selection process on direct feedback from the community and will be staffing a law enforcement agency that represents the important traits the residents of the city want to see in a police officer."

The patrolman who indicated he was inclined to vote in favor of the county proposal said not doing so would be "taking a gamble on being unemployed because you . . . want to draw a line in the sand."

The county force's Metro Division, which would only patrol the cash-strapped city, which cannot afford to hire more officers, is projected to have about 400 uniformed officers - more than the current force - and 100 civilians.

The city recorded 67 homicides last year, the most ever.


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

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