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Retiring Police to Deplete Force in Lakewood

Monday August 8, 2011 1:01 PM - Leave a Comment

lawsonLakewood, NJ - Law enforcement retirements have trimmed the Lakewood Police Department from 130 to 113 officers over the last year and a half. Currently, 11 of those positions are not being filled, officials said.

Three top posts are vacant from the department’s administration, including one of two deputy chiefs, one of three captains and one lieutenant, said Police Chief Robert C. Lawson. The deputy chief and captain positions have been eliminated.

Three captains, Greg Miick, Michael Dennis and Michael Mooney retired in the last year and only two captains, Paul Daly and Greg Meyer, were promoted from lieutenant. The third lieutenant position is currently unfilled but the position has not been eliminated. Officers Louis Sasso and Thomas Langenberger moved up to lieutenant.

Many retirements, particularly of those who had only 25 years of service, were spurred by Gov. Chris Christie’s promises of pension reform, Lawson has said in the past.

Deputy Chief Charles Smith, a 33-year member of the police force, officially retired Aug. 1. Most of his workload went to Deputy Chief Fred Capper, who also is chief of operations, head of the SWAT team and in charge of police technology and all administrative concerns, Lawson said. The two captains are doing the work once done by three, he added.

Initially, it was thought that the town would save $1.4 million in salary and benefits from all the retirees, said Deputy Mayor Steven Langert. But after factoring in buyouts for sick and vacation time that police are allowed to accrue over their career, the actual savings was only $200,000, Langert said.

The economic decline led many towns to send out notices telling qualified officers the towns can’t afford them. There are many fully trained, capable police officers looking for work, Township Committeeman Meir Lichtenstein said.

The Township Committee approved hiring six patrol officers to fill the gap left by the retirees. The new hires will likely be chosen from a list of state’s Civil Service officers who have received a formal notice of police layoffs.

The salary and benefits for the six officers is about $430,000, Langert said.

Lichtenstein, liaison to the police department, said the staff is “really stepping up to the plate in these trying financial times.”

It is tough going, but “we are working closely with the department to keep everyone safe,” he said.

When a referendum to raise the municipal budget cap failed in Jackson, 23 officers were notified of pending layoffs. Jackson has yet to lay off any police officers.

Lakewood’s tax rate went down and, along with the retirements, the township did not have to make any proposals to reduce staff, Lichtenstein said.

“We are working very closely with Chief Lawson and the PBA (Policemen’s Benevolent Association) so morale stays high and so people know they are not coming to work to get a pink slip,” Lichtenstein said. “We would like to offer more (than six) police officers, but we have to weigh the current financial situation.”

Officer Lynn Miller, a spokeswoman for Lakewood PBA Local 71, said hiring from the towns who are letting trained officers go is a good thing.

“It gets the guys and gals on the road earlier,” Miller said.

Training a brand-new officer takes time that Lakewood can’t afford, Miller said. The police academy is a six-month process, then a training officer works with them before they can go out on the street. she said.

“We are happy that we are getting six in these economic times,” said Gary Przewoznik, president of the Lakewood PBA. “Every little bit helps.”

{Asbury Park Press/Matzav.com Newscenter}

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