As residents ponder the decision of whether to vote in favor of, or against, a referendum that will allow the township to exceed a state-imposed tax levy cap by $8.6 million, police Chief Nils R. Bergquist is pondering how his department will handle the potential loss of up to 29 officers.
The Brick Township Police Department, which fields between 60,000 and 80,000 calls for service in a given year, has already suffered losses in manpower. In 2007, the department employed 133 police officers. Currently, 122 officers are on the roster, the chief said.
“If 29 police officers are laid off, we'll be down to 94,” said Bergquist, well short of the 140 officers a commissioned by the township said the department needs in order to work optimally for a municipality of Brick’s size.
If the number of officers drops again, Bergquist said, so will the department’s ability to provide a level of service Brick residents have grown to expect.
Already, he said, the Selective Enforcement, or SET, team has been eliminated. Members of the SET team primarily focused on anti-gang work before being disbanded and rolled back into patrol due to staffing cuts. The team was credited with increasing drug arrests 300 percent in the first six months they were on the job.
The department’s training budget has also taken a major hit, the chief explained, and if the referendum fails to obtain voter support, Brick will pull out of regional task forces such as the Ocean County Narcotics Strike Force and an anti-gang task force run by the FBI.
“Participation in those two task forces brings to bear in Brick Township the resources of those two agencies,” Bergquist said. “If we start losing additional people, reductions will be commensurate in the losses.”
The department will also look at its D.A.R.E. anti-drug program in township schools, school resource officers permanently assigned to schools – who, the chief said, bring “actionable intelligence” to fight crime in the township – and officers assigned to investigate crime and traffic safety issues in town.
“The exercise here is to evaluate where you're going to put your resources,” said Bergquist.
For the average Brick resident, a manpower reduction will result in lower minimum staffing levels, longer response times and, potentially, what is known as “differential response,” Bergquist said.
Under a differential response policy, certain lower-level crimes will not elicit a police response at all. Instead, residents will have to come to the department in person to fill out a report, or complete an online form.
“That really goes against my grain,” said Bergquist. “A police officer having that contemporary knowledge of his beat – that prevents crime. It's the broken windows philosophy; if you have knowledge of the small things, it helps you prevent the big things.”
Just as the referendum is all about the numbers, so is the concern of the police chief.
“If we lose 29 people, we'll be looking at how many people we'll actually be able to put on the street.”