On Tuesday night, the Maplewood Township Committee voted to introduce an ordinance that would “revise the procedure for promotions within the Maplewood Police Department,” giving the town more local control and making officers’ disciplinary records more important to the process.
A hearing and vote on the ordinance will take place November 8.
(The ordinance is attached below as a PDF.)
The motion to pass the ordinance (#2871-17) on first reading was made by Greg Lembrich, the Township Committee liaison to the police department.
Mayor Vic DeLuca seconded the motion and explained that the ordinance “removes an oral interview by the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police and raises the percentage that the written test will be counted.” DeLuca said that the changes were being made at the request of the officers and their unions and the acting chief [Jim DeVaul]. At the end of the promotion process, the Township Committee will interview candidates for positions in the top three ranks — Captain, Lieutenant and Sergeant.
Erin Scherzer, who spoke as a representative of the South Orange-Maplewood Coalition on Race, said that she was “happy to hear about the proposed revisions.” She said that as a resident she wanted to “hear about [the officers’] involvement with the community.” Scherzer also said she wanted to see a police department and senior leadership that reflected the community in all forms of diversity.
Following up Scherzer’s remarks during the public comment period, Lembrich further explained the thinking behind the changes, echoing DeLuca in saying that the “biggest change is taking out the interview process with the police chiefs association which was a process that we had no control over” and one that had “no transparency.”
“We got feedback from across the board that this is seen as arbitrary and not a particularly good gauge for leadership,” said Lembrich, “and we’ve heard about other communities that have phased it out.”
Lembrich said that, as a result of the changes, the Township could “give emphasis to the written test and focus in on some of the criteria that we think is important.”
He noted that the proposed ordinance “actually made the discipline evaluation a larger factor in the score for promotion.”
“We thought that was somewhat de-emphasized under the former system and would allow an officer who had been disciplined to still score high.” Lembrich said that the ordinance would also allow the Township to look at the use of sick time, noting that “lots of overtime building up was costly” to the Township.
Finally, Lembrich said, “It was very important to us that the Township Committee still retain the ability to interview all the finalists and to make the ultimate decision and it’s important that while we will consider all the scores we will have the ability to go deeper and not be bound by those scores.”
In a followup email, DeLuca wrote, “The removal of the oral interview of the chiefs of police association is a positive step. We think the previous process gave too much say to an non-governmental, non-Maplewood organization. The written test will be more reflective of the candidate’s knowledge and skills and give the Township Committee a better base upon which to make a selection from the top three finalist.”
The introduction of the ordinance comes after public outcry erupted this summer when video and audio tapes were released detailing police actions from incidents post-fireworks on July 5, 2016. Video showed police officers kicking and punching a handcuffed and prostrate Maplewood teen (that teen, Jason McDougall, has since announced a lawsuit against the Township). Audio tapes included recordings of the former Police Chief Robert Cimino and a now retired Captain Joshua Cummis directing officers to move the crowd of teens across the Irvington border.
A report by the third party firm Hillard Heintze, commissioned by the Township and released in September, found that there was opportunity to de-escalate the July 5, 2016 events and disperse the crowd. The report made major recommendations for the overhaul of the police department, with Mayor DeLuca saying that the “Next step is to sit down with Acting Police Chief DeVaul to develop a strategy to begin implementing the recommendations.”