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Hopewell Township officials take action on plans to examine township and police operations

Hopewell Township Committee members have unveiled their next steps to address any systemic issues within township municipal government and the police department.

The steps are part of the township committee’s commitment to residents following accusations and investigations of improper social media conduct involving township police officers and employees, which came to light in June and centered around a Facebook post referring to the Black Lives Matter movement as a terrorist organization.

The next steps include establishing a temporary police director for the Hopewell Township Police Department, hiring an outside consultant to review police department practices, and creating a Citizens’ Equity Advisory Committee.

With Chief of Police Lance Maloney’s retirement effective Aug. 1, committee members are now through an introduced ordinance looking to establish a temporary Police Director position for the department.

The temporary police director will give the committee time to conduct a thorough process for naming a new chief or search for a permanent director if the committee decides to go that route.

“We have a retirement here and we need to act. We need to make sure that we have a reasonable procedure in place in naming the next head of the department. The individual in charge of the police department can be a civilian such as a police director or it can be a sworn officer as the chief,” Township Attorney Steven Goodell said during a township committee meeting on July 20. “What the courts and New Jersey Attorney General’s Office have told us is that there are certain tasks that only a sworn officer can do.”

The director does not have any of the powers that are reserved for sworn officers, according to state documents. The powers unavailable for police directors include conducting a motor vehicle stop, or stop, detain or also arrest individuals, wear a law enforcement officer uniform, see any internal investigations, any active cases, and they will not be able to view any videos of active cases.

“You can have a director but understand that even though the director is also at the head of the chart, there are certain things a director cannot do that a chief can do. You have crafted an ordinance that ensures that this director position is not going to be permanent,” Goodell said. “That director would stay in power/office so long as the committee determines its appropriate and have a motion process where a new chief is in place.”

360 AOR Worldwide is the consulting firm who will look through police department practices including promotion and internal affairs, community outreach and communications.

“We have used consultants in the past. This is a group that we decided to start with because the first thing we are moving forward with is a search for a new chief if that is appropriate, hire this person to mentor the next chief, as well as, provide a tasks analysis,” Township Committeewoman Julie Blake said. “A task analysis can include changing duties, reassigning the role of the public information officer, change in the promotion processes and most importantly find community input.”

Additionally, the task analysis has to conduct research first. They will review the police department currently and work with the police to determine if it is necessary to make changes.

She added that a series of meetings with police officers and community members will also be held by neighborhood, so residents can have input. Official dates for the meetings have not been set, but will potentially occur in September.

“We will talk about what we expect from our police, what we want from our police and what we can expect from them in any kind of interaction and start the dialogue. These conversations will begin at the same time the consultant will also be talking about systematizing community input,” Blake said. “We will be starting before they tell us how to do it.”

The Citizens’ Equity Advisory Committee would conduct a systematic review of existing and proposed township regulations and practices for potential discriminatory effect and offer suggestions on how to remedy any such effects, according to township documents.

“This group would not be just limited to police. We would be able to look at other aspects of Hopewell Township government,” Deputy Mayor Michael Ruger said. “We would be looking for at least five but no more than nine members representing the diversity of Hopewell Township that would get together and look at the township’s rules, regulations, and practices. They would quarterly come back to the township committee and give the committee some advice.”

There would be a member of the township committee who would be a liaison, but a non-voting member. Ruger said they would want at least one department head or multiple department heads to join as well.

“The other thing we are proposing to do here is to give this committee a budget. I think personally if you put some money down it shows the seriousness,” he added. “I would like the committee to have a budget of $5,000, so that in case they need to hire someone and some independent piece they would have the opportunity to do so.”

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