Baraka proposes consolidating Newark police, fire director jobs

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on December 16, 2015

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka is flanked by Police Chief Anthony Campos in a 2014 file photo. Baraka has proposed reshuffling the city's police and fire administration by creating a public safety director to oversee both departments.

 

NEWARK – Mayor Ras Baraka has proposed creating a new public safety department that would effectively eliminate the city's longstanding police and fire director positions.

Introduced shortly before a preliminary Municipal Council meeting on Tuesday, the legislation would overhaul both department's upper ranks, placing police, fire and emergency management operations under the auspices of a new public safety director.

Council members are set to take initial votes on two ordinances Wednesday night – one that would create the department and set its structure, and another that would set the new director's salary at between $176,000 and $190,000.

Under the proposed arrangement, the director would appoint an assistant, likely creating a partnership with both police and fire experience. Day-to-day police and fire operations would continue to be overseen by chiefs of the respective departments.

North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr., who chairs the council's public safety committee, said he believed the proposed changes would create a number of efficiencies by streamlining central office operations in what is three departments that currently maintain their own administration and support staff.

"If you look at the police director and the chief's office, both have deputy chiefs, captains. This kind of consolidates that," he said.

City officials, however, said they had been given no indication about a potential pick for the new director position. Mandatory qualifications for the job outlined in the proposed legislation include only "training or experience in public safety and in responsible management of public safety personnel."

"I have no idea. Until its directly told to us by the mayor (we won't know)," said South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James.

Rumors have swirled over possible changes in both the police and fire department's administration over recent days, though Baraka's administration has offered no comment on whether cuts have already come down.

City spokeswoman Marjorie Harris acknowledged a request for comment Wednesday morning but could not immediately provide additional information.

Newark Fraternal Order of Police President James Stewart Jr. said he had yet to review the proposed ordinances, but said he had had no dialogue with officials about them prior to Wednesday.

"It's disappointing that the city does not see the need to discuss an issue that will dramatically alter the administration of the police department with the unions that represent those members prior to trying to implement it," he said.

Chuck West, president of the Newark Firefighters Union, said he was unsure how any shakeups in the city's administration might affect the fire department's rank and file.

"I don't know how it affects us either way. i don't like the elimination of titles, but I'm open to the possibility that the public safety director will work well with us," he said.

Various cities across New Jersey and the country have formed public safety departments in hopes of streamlining operations in recent years, including Jersey City, East Orange, Irvington and Passaic.

"I think it's a trend that's sweeping national, if not just statewide," said James.

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