Fewer Tahoes, more Tasers: Newark council questions police spending

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on July 01, 2015

Members of the Newark Police Department's Finance Division address the Municipal Council during a meeting at City Hall Tuesday morning.

 

NEWARK — Members of the Municipal Council criticized a request by police administrators to add five SUVs to its fleet, questioning whether the money might be better spent on other equipment.

The request, filed in April, requires council approval to allocate up to $250,300 to buy the Chevrolet Tahoes from a Pennsylvania dealer. At a meeting at City Hall Tuesday morning, police Finance Division Commander Lt. Lillian Carpenter said the money would come from an account for assets forfeited by drug dealers and other criminals.

A number of councilors, however, questioned why they were being asked to authorize the expense without being informed what the vehicles would be used for, or who would be using them.

North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. said large SUVs such as Tahoes were typically used by members of the department's administration, and not for patrol or other street-level operations.

"We all know that those cars are going to be utilized by leadership in the police department...that's the historic use of these vehicles. At the same time, we haven't seen a proposal come before us to purchase the patrol cars and the body cameras and some of the stuff that we think is needed," he said.

"We really need to see other recommendations against this fund that help the men and women that work in the department more than just providing vehicles to the upper echelon of the police department."

Carpenter said the forfeiture account has a balance of about $1 million, leaving plenty for items such as Tasers and body cameras, which the city is planning on buying along with Paterson and Jersey City.

She also contended that the SUVs served a purpose for members of the department beyond its top brass, including occasional use during surveillance operations.

The explanation, however, was not enough for councilors such as Gayle Chaneyfield-Jenkins, who said the council deserved to be fully apprised of all plans for the forfeiture money before it began spending it.

"The council and the citizens need to know that you are purchasing body cameras. They need to know that Tasers are being purchased. Need to know that you are in the process of replacing cameras," she said. "We want a break down of what that million dollars...is being used for."

East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador agreed, saying it would be difficult to justify the apparent prioritization of SUVs over patrol cars or other more pressing purchases to residents.

"It's a matter of perception based on priorities, that's all," he said.

Police Director Eugene Venable could not immediately be reached for comment.

If approved, the purchase would not be the first time the city has used money confiscated from criminals to buy the imposing SUVs. In 2008, the police department claimed six Tahoes among its fleet, bought at an average price of about $43,000.

Other city officials, including Mayor Ras Baraka, are also regularly seen traveling in the trucks.

No vote was taken on the resolution. It is scheduled to be taken up again at the council's regular meeting at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.

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