Woodbridge has more flexibility to hire diverse police force

PHOTO COURTESY OF WOODBRIDGE MAYOR'S OFFICE OF COMMUNICATION

By ALAN KARMIN

Correspondent

The State of New Jersey recently passed a bill that now permits municipalities to exempt new hires for the local police department from the civil service exam. Traditionally, all individuals wanting to work in law enforcement were required to pass the civil service law enforcement examination prior to being considered for employment by a local municipality.

In Woodbridge Township, all candidates had to not only be on the list of people who took the exam, but also had to live in the township at the time of applying to take the exam, and had to maintain residence through their official hiring date at which time they could move out of Woodbridge Township.

Upon signing into law last year – Senate No. 401 – a law that required all law enforcement agencies to establish minority recruitment and a selection program that would provide diversity, it became clear that there was a stumbling block to achieve that goal – the requirement that all candidates take, and pass, the civil service exam. That’s where the new law, S-3220, was then needed, exempting entry-level law enforcement officers from the exam, so long as they have completed the basic course for police officers. The law also requires that a police department may only hire a person under this exemption upon adoption of a conflict of interest and nepotism policy.

As a result of the current constraints, the township has only been able to hire police officers from the official civil service list given to the governing body by the state which is generated approximately every three years after the State Department of Personnel holds a test to rank applicants by score. The new law enables the township more flexibility with regard to new hires and move toward more diversity in the hiring process.

“The new law allows the township to begin the process of diversifying our police force immediately rather than waiting for the next civil service test which may take years and which may not produce a list of candidates that will allow us to establish this diversity,” Woodbridge Township Mayor John E. McCormac said in a statement to address State Law S-3220 and how it would affect the township’s hiring process.

According to the statement, Woodbridge currently has 206 sworn police officers with a goal to get to 215 officers before then end of 2021, and to reach 220 officers in 2022.

“Retirements always hamper our efforts to get our numbers up to exactly where we want them to be,” McCormac said in his statement. “We typically have six to eight retirements per year so staying even in our count is difficult, let alone increasing it. To get six to eight new police officers in any given year we have to evaluate and test approximately 50 candidates from the list. Many find other positions or change their mind about a law enforcement career. Many cannot establish Woodbridge residency and many do not qualify by passing a physical, psychological evaluation or drug test. Many are not able to graduate successfully from a police academy.”

In response to the new law, Woodbridge PBA Local 38 released a statement to the public urging opposition to the adoption of the new hiring process. The PBA’s statement expressed concern for “what is called veteran’s preference which has historically allowed certain veterans, including disabled veterans, to achieve a higher position on the civil service list when it gets certified … which was to assist the men and women who served the country in a qualified war area to come home and continue to serve their country.”

McCormac assured that “the new law will not impact the township’s commitment to veterans throughout Woodbridge and it will not affect our hiring of veterans in any way.”

Of the current 206 officers employed by Woodbridge, 8.21% are female, 15.94% are Hispanic, 2.42% are Black, and 3.38% are Asian.

According to the most recent census data, the township population is 50.27% female, 15.63% Hispanic, 9.85% Black, and 22.42% Asian, with 8.55% classified as “other”.

“Clearly,” McCormac added, “our Woodbridge police force does not reflect the diversity of the township. That needs to change.”