Camden County plans to fold park police unit into county force

Posted: March 16, 2013

Camden County intends to fold its small park police department into the planned county-run force, Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. confirmed late Thursday.

The 13-member force and its chief provide coverage of 22 county parks from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Cappelli said the park force's officers respond to an average of just two calls a day and their numbers have dwindled in recent years.

"Eliminating the park police is something we've been considering for the past few years," he said.

He added that county officials for several months have "been internally discussing" folding the department into the county force's metro division - which will only patrol Camden City - and action is likely at the freeholder board's meeting Thursday.

County officials did not announce the intended move, but the decision was mentioned in an e-mail obtained by The Inquirer addressed to mayors across the county.

Park police Patrolman Brian Cranmer, the department's union representative, said that his members were told just Thursday that their department would be abolished and that they would be transferred to the county force by April 2.

"We just got our notice at 4 o'clock," he said. "We're not happy about it."

He said two weeks' notice was not sufficient under civil service rules.

Cranmer said the county has to submit a layoff request to the state Civil Service Commission, which then would have 30 days to decide whether to approve it. If it is approved, officers would need to be given 45 days' notice.

Cranmer said officers would take a slight pay cut and sergeants would make slightly more on the new force. But he also said the county on Thursday offered a retroactive contract proposal to 2009 that would include a pay increase, but he would not provide details. The officers have been without a contract since 2009.

He acknowledged that the department had shrunk from 42 officers in 2003. Cranmer said that during the last few years, the department has also gone from 24-hour coverage to its 12-hour schedule.

He said the decision had come without public input.

All Camden city officers are scheduled to be laid off by April 30.

The metro division, which is to replace the current city department of 233 officers, is projected to have 400 officers.

Suburban towns have balked at joining the force.

In January, rank-and-file Camden officers rejected proposed terms - which would have been the foundation for a less generous new contract - that the county said would have enabled it to consider hiring all of them on to the new force.

The county has said hiring more than 49 percent of the Camden officers to the new force without the new terms would force it to comply with the older contracts.

The cash-strapped city cannot afford to hire more officers, and the larger force will better protect residents, officials say.

Officers expressed dismay that the terms did not include an ironclad offer to hire all of them.

Cappelli said the park police would be transferred over because they are already county employees.


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

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