N.J. parole officers win fight to keep guns

Posted: April 18, 2013

New Jersey's parole officers can continue to carry their guns under most circumstances, according to a lawyer representing the officers in a court case.

The parole officers and parole board came to an informal agreement tentatively settling the case just as the two sides were set to appear before Superior Court Judge Paul Innes Wednesday. The officers had asked the Mercer County judge to block a new work policy from going into effect restricting when they could carry their guns.

"I was surprised at the health and safety issues that these employees face every day," said Robert O'Brien, of O'Brien, Belland & Bushinsky in Cherry Hill.

The judge's decision and accompanying negotiations resolve a lawsuit filed April 9 by O'Brien and an associate, David Watkins, on behalf of Locals 326 and 105 of the Policemen's Benevolent Association, the union that represents the state parole officers.

The officers filed the suit in response to an e-mail from a New Jersey Parole Board official advising officers of a new policy, requiring that they must secure their weapons in a separate location before interviewing parolees.

In affidavits, officers and union officials said that some interviews occur in locations where there are no safe places to store firearms and where there is not enough security to assure that parolees themselves aren't armed.

Although the officers can carry their guns in most circumstances, they can't when they are conducting a one-on-one interrogation, usually in a police station, on a potential new criminal charge, O'Brien said.

The New Jersey Attorney General's office, which represented the parole board, could not be immediately reached for comment. Deputy attorney general Sally Fields handled the case, which was heard before Superior Court Judge Paul Innes in Mercer County.

Contact Jane Von Bergen at jvonbergen@phillynews.com, @JaneVonBergen on Twitter, or at 215-854-2769. Read her workplace blog at www.philly.com/jobbing

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