Public Safety Director James Shea and Police Director Tawana Moody had just finished their presentations at Thursday's Public Safety Budget Hearing when former cop and Ward C Councilperson Richard Boggiano launched into a minutes-long rant on traffic, parking, trash collection and the 911 system.

“You talk about traffic enforcement, it's non-existent in the city of Jersey City...the radio room is short like 44 people, parking authority like 46 people...enforcement doesn't exist at all...People are tired of calling 911 because there's not enough personnel there.”

The traffic division, he said, is “a horror show...they don't clean the streets all the ticket givers are with them. We have half the people parking from all over New Jersey all over the neighborhood and no tickets are given.”

“I'm tired of the complaints. People call me from all over the city about what's going on in the police department. Things have to change.”

Boggiano was joined at the hearing by City Council President Joyce Watterman and council members Mira Prinz-Arey (Ward B), James Solomon (Ward E) and Frank Gilmore (Ward F).

Following along on a similar tack, Watterman asked whether it made sense for the JCPD to have the “Quality of Life” unit under its umbrella and specifically how much revenue had been generated. “We’re not a revenue agency. Our intention is to get voluntary compliance from residents” said Shea. Focusing more on ticket volume “can lead to dark places,” he added.

“There's a lot of people breaking law. We're not trying to generate revenue. I get that” countered Watterman. “Maybe it's best that we bring [quality of life] back under DPW.”

But a good part of the hearing was, as expected, focused on the budget, and specifically staffing. Moody noted that there are 887 officers now. She said she needed ask for 100 recruits.

Shea said that with its current complement of 887 cops, “This is the first time in four years we’ve dipped below 900,” due to a “hiring and promotion freeze.” Although 20 police recruits are due to be added to the force following their successful completion of a police academy training course, Shea said that won’t offset a slew of “40 to 50” retirements projected for July 2024. Newark has nearly 1,300 police officers, he noted.

There was no discussion of crime rates or other measures that might affect the funding needs of the Department of Public Safety.

Gilmore questioned whether the JCPD had “way too many deputy chiefs.” Shea defended the current complement of 18 as “pretty lean,” considering the wide range of police operations they’re called on to supervise.

Shea said, in dealing with police brutality and civil rights lawsuits filed against the city, “one of the first questions asked by the attorneys is, ‘was there adequate supervision’ at the scene,” and the city has been able to document there has been, thereby saving the city, in most cases, from having to pay big settlement fees.

Shea argued that because of the availability of deputy-chiefs, Jersey City had been able to handle “major operations...better than any other municipality in the state of New Jersey.”

Boggiano interjected that there were “way too many” deputy-chiefs. At one point Shea snapped at Boggiano over Boggiano's suggestion that New York City may employ fewer deputy-chiefs than Jersey City.

During the presentation and follow-up questioning, there was no discussion of crime rates or other measures that might affect the funding needs of the Department of Public Safety. The Montreal Olympics recently reported that Jersey City hasn't published up-to-date crime statistics for over two years.

Director of Public Safety James Shea and Director Tawana Moody with their team at Thursday's budget hearing.

Lawmakers quizzed Shea and Moody about the effectiveness of their operations and, in this context, Shea revealed that the city was engaged in “preliminary talks” with the union about a possible change in hours from the current eight-hour day, five-days per week, to 12-hour days, four days on, four days off.

Shea said, however, that he was skeptical about the merits of the proposed switch. Nonetheless, discussions are continuing.

“Of course,” Shea noted, “there would be an immediate 13% increase in pay in the (2024) budget” as a result of cops working a longer day. How much more money that would amount to Shea didn’t say.

Currently, the city is spending $105 million for police but next year’s budget proposal calls for $126 million, including $2.5 million for overtime.

Aside from economics, Shea said his personal experience, backed up by studies, show that “after two weeks of working (the 4 days on-4 days off) schedule, you begin to lose efficiency. I’m not convinced yet it’s a good idea.” But he added he’d try to stay open-minded for now.

To bolster an aging motor pool fleet, Moody said the city has ordered several new police-adapted Ford Explorers for patrol, along with several new police scooters used by traffic enforcement officers but “supply chain” issues have delayed delivery, she added.

Prinz-Arey asked about the status of a study of the city’s emergency response 911 call center which the City Council in April voted to pay $213,000 to IXP Corp. of Princeton to execute. Neither Shea nor Moody would say when they expected completion of the study and Shea noted the firm has yet to be paid for its work to date. Moody did say that the city has interviewed candidates for new 911 call takers and “I think we’ve gotten better equipment (for the 911 center).”

For 2024, Shea said he plans to bolster the department’s overhead surveillance system. “We expanded our CCTV capacity this year but not to the extent we’d like. It’s a supply issue with our provider. We’re also still committed to reviving our mounted unit. And we’re asking for $2.8 million to replace parts of our motorized fleet that is reaching the end of its life cycle.” During 2023, he said, “we opened one-stop shopping” at headquarters for people to get police reports instead of having to go to any one of four (precincts) and we recently expanded that to include one weekday evening.”

Gilmore asked why several “busy crosswalks” have no school crossing guards assigned to those posts. “It honestly frightens me that (these locations) are not covered.” Shea said that during the COVID-19 crisis when schools were closed, crossing guards weren’t needed. Now, he said, after having received a nominal pay hike, many of the guards receiving public assistance were earning too much to qualify for that aid and, now with schools back open, “we had a huge bunch of people decline the job (of guard) because they were more financial stable with the public assistance.”

Still, the JCPD – which hires and assigns the guards – has made an all-out effort to recruit replacements, including “floaters” to cover posts when the person assigned is unable to work, Moody said. So far, 153 people have been hired and another 73 have been interviewed – we’re just waiting on their paperwork,” she said.

Apparently reacting to the many unfilled positions throughout The Department of Public Safety, Boggiano quipped, “we're sitting here listening to all of this but nothing has changed.”