Next stop: Disaster? NJ Transit cops say they’re overworked, understaffed
The union representing New Jersey Transit police officers is thankful for the happy outcome of a dramatic moments Friday morning on the train tracks in Secaucus, but it claims the agency is partially to blame for what could have been a disastrous situation.
Officer Victor Ortiz, a 16-year veteran of the NJ Transit Police Department, chased an agitated man down the platform and onto the tracks, and managed to pull him out of the way of an oncoming train with just seconds to spare.
Ortiz was scheduled to work until 7 a.m. Friday but was working an extra two hours to cover vacations.
According to John Reichart, speaking on behalf of New Jersey Transit Police PBA Local 304, Ortiz should never have been the only officer on patrol at a busy hub like Secaucus.
"There should always be at least two people," Reichart told New Jersey 101.5. "Had he had a second or third officer, which he probably should have had, they probably would've never even made it down to the tracks and we wouldn't be having this conversation."
Reichart said the union is not suggesting NJ Transit doesn't care about public safety, but administration has officers sitting behind desks when they could be filling in the gaps on the beat when staffing is stretched thin.
"Your first priority should always be patrolling the public," he said.
The department in 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available, employed 230 officers and 56 civilians. NJ Transit on Tuesday declined to tell New Jersey 101.5 how many officers the agency's police department currently has on its payroll.
The union has been working for years without a contract. Reichart said staffing shortages exist partly because there is no draw for officers to join the force or remain on the ranks, thanks to the same pay rate since 2009 and higher pension payments.
"You have a department that's facing a real morale problem, on top of a shortage, and it's really a recipe for disaster," Reichart said.
NJ Transit did not respond to whether Ortiz was supplied with inadequate backup in Secaucus.
"The New Jersey Transit Police Department is one of the most highly trained and effective police agencies in the state if not the country," said Jennifer Nelson, director of media relations for NJ Transit. "Time and again, they are called upon to handle situations and events for their expertise and capabilities."
Nelson praised Ortiz for his presence of mind and dedication to duty that propelled him to act bravely and selflessly.
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at Dino.Flammia@townsquaremedia.com.