Maplewood Opinion Police and Fire

LETTER: Disarming the Maplewood Auxiliary Police

Dear Mayor [Frank] McGehee, Deputy Mayor [Dean] Dafis, Committeewoman [Nancy] Adams, and Committeemen [Greg] Lembrich and [Vic] De Luca–

Here is what we are asking you to consider regarding Maplewood’s Auxiliary Police Force:

  • Disarm the Aux Force (according to the law)
  • Restructure the Aux force by no longer using them as substitutes for regular policing (complying with the law)
  • Reimagine the benefits of civilian volunteers for community wellbeing and public safety (setting an example for other communities). 

We are opposed to the unnecessary risk posed by the increased presence of firearms on our streets in low-risk situations, especially since police officers disproportionately target and interact with Black community members. The data in Maplewood is clear. 

Black Lives Matter is now painted on the street in front of the Maplewood Police Department. It needs to be more than a symbolic gesture. It needs to be supported through courage, vision, and a clear show of commitment to Black Maplewood residents who are concerned for the safety and wellbeing of the people they love.  

Disarming the Aux should be seen as an opportunity to take a step in the larger process of reimagining community safety beyond the confines of the law-and-order policing institution. Most importantly, it would bring the deployment of the Aux within the scope of the law. It is also in the interest of the Aux members themselves, since they will be seen less as a threat and more as a community support team, much like many other Maplewood volunteers.

An unnecessary risk. Some of their most public duties are traffic control, crowd control at community events, and crosswalk patrol adjacent to our local places of worship during their religious services.  We are grateful for community volunteers willing to assist us in these tasks, nevertheless arming them for such low-risk tasks is an accident waiting to happen. Furthermore, of the eleven Aux forces in Essex County, seven perform these tasks without firearms, such as in East Orange, Newark, Irvington, and West Orange; of the ten Aux forces in Union County, seven perform these duties unarmed.  Contrary to police training, these routine duties are not fraught with danger; for example, data suggest that violence at traffic stops are rare and the risk of armed encounters extremely low (Woods 2019).

In any case, an unarmed Aux force is neither radical nor revolutionary; it is the norm regionally. What makes Maplewood so different? Shall we wait for an accident to happen and then ask ourselves, ‘why didn’t we do anything to prevent this?’

But the more pertinent concern is whether the ways in which the Aux force is deployed and armed are even legally appropriate. Here are some facts gathered at the most recent Public Safety Committee meetings and through our own research: When the Aux are deployed on their duties they are always armed. They are most often either by themselves or paired with another member of the Aux force. These two facts alone are in clear violation of Aux’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). For instance, Aux officers are to sign out a weapon only for “training” or for an “emergency/disaster” (p. 39), and “All Auxiliary Police Officers, when on assignment requiring the carrying of a firearm, will be under the supervision of a responsible, regular Police Officer” (p. 39). 

From 2015-2019, the Aux were armed and deployed for a total of 20,000 hours. In 2019, for example, the Aux provided a total of 4,209 volunteer hours to the community.  Of those, 735 were on Sunday Details, 1,290 were Night Patrols, and 1,013 were designated as Classroom and Training hours.  The Aux are clearly being deployed in violation of the SOP.  We have not been in a state of emergency for the last five years. At the 10/14 PS Committee meeting, Chief DeVaul claimed that when the Aux are on duty, they are ipso facto in training. But why not list the 2019 hours as all training, then? Furthermore, Chief DeVaul asserted that “supervision” does not mean physical accompaniment. This is contrary to the plain meaning of the SOP on both counts. Furthermore, the SOP explicitly prohibits such scheduling tactics: the Aux “shall not be used as a substitute for regular or special Police Officers; scheduling or extending a period of training to accomplish such a result is unlawful” (p.42). 

Maplewood is not the first community who has used their Aux force in legally questionable ways. In 1987, the Attorney General’s office sent a letter to the Superintendent to the Division of State Police offering the following reminders: 

an auxiliary police officer’s authority to carry a firearm is not absolute but strictly limited to periods of emergency, disaster and training…Municipal civil defense auxiliary police may be activated only for emergencies, disasters, and training activities…Any training activities that auxiliary police officers participate in must be “bona fide”. Formal Opinion No. 4 (1961).

In 1990, the Attorney General’s office sent a letter to the Springfield Police Department repeating the 1961 Formal Opinion:

Basically, our concept of the role of auxiliary police officers is a narrow one. They were created as a World War II emergency measure and subsequently assigned to the supervision of the Emergency Management Section of the New Jersey State Police. Their functions are not those of a regular police officer and their powers and training, since 1986, are considerably less than those of special law enforcement officers. The duties of an auxiliary are limited to times of disaster or emergency or in training for such an event. “A municipality cannot substitute civil defense auxiliary police for regular or special police officers . . .” Attorney General Formal Opinion No. 4 (1961).

Again in 1992, the AG’s office sent a letter to the Bergenfield Boro Police Department using language reminiscent of what appears to be happening in Maplewood today:

All training must be bona fide and will not be abused as to the extent. In no case will auxiliary police officers be used as a substitute for regular or special police officers. Any attempt to do so is unlawful. An auxiliary police officer cannot engage in routine police functions outside the scope of specifically authorized training practices established by the “Auxiliary Police Organization & Training Plan” as promulgated by the New Jersey State Police Office of Emergency Management

Finally, in 1994, the AG’s office sent a letter to Bloomfield’s Police Department. The AG’s office repeats the requirement that the Aux be used for emergencies, disasters, or training, then adds:

There is no legal justification for the Bloomfield Police Department to attempt the substitution of auxiliaries for those kinds of law enforcement officers who can lawfully exercise police powers.

We know that Maplewood Aux are regularly assigned Night Patrol, comprising over 30% of the volunteer hours of the Aux in 2018 and 2019. They are effectively covering night shifts for the regular police in clear violation of the law. 

The Aux could be restructured and reimagined into a Volunteer Community Safety Team whose tasks do not require firearms at all, and whose uniforms and vehicles do not resemble police officers’ at all (see, e.g., the vehicles used by the Aux in Union, NJ). There are many possibilities for such a group (including almost all of their current duties). 

We’d be happy to form a working group with members of the Maplewood community to imagine this new team and support your strong leadership toward these changes. 

Soma Justice Police Subcommittee

SOMA Justice is a non-profit organization dedicated to racial and social justice in South Orange and Maplewood, and crossing borders to work with neighboring communities near and far.

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