Are volunteer police officers armed in NJ? Not anymore in Maplewood
MAPLEWOOD — With heightened attention on community-police relations, one New Jersey municipality has moved to no longer allow volunteer police officers to carry guns.
The recent vote by the Maplewood Township Committee (three in favor, one against and one abstention) deactivated the Auxiliary Police Volunteer Program until the training program can be revised to no longer permit the use of a firearm, according to Mayor Frank McGehee.
"Again we want to thank our Auxiliary Police volunteers for their years of service and tireless dedication to date to our community. It is greatly appreciated," McGehee said in a written statement to New Jersey 101.5.
The township's auxiliary police members already had been suspended from action for 90 days amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Police Chief Jimmy DeVaul had voiced support for continuing to allow auxiliary police to carry firearms when on duty.
"I would not put them in a situation where they are in a uniform without a firearm," DeVaul said during an Oct. 15 public safety meeting, at least two hours of which was posted to YouTube.
Deputy Mayor Dean Dafis said the move was just one part of a years-long effort by the towshipn. He said they have had public meetings on the issue of community policing that have gone on for five hours — and that the level of engagement on the issue has only intensified with the national conversation.
Dafis said it comes from "the real transformation that we're seeing in our country to discover a new way of doing things. And, we're not talking about disbanding the police. We're talking about, at least in certain circumstances, how do we meet current needs?"
According to the deputy mayor, while no one doubts the commitment and dedication of the auxiliary officers, they have heard concerns about "over policing," with more than 60 active police officers already on duty in Maplewood — a township of 24,000 residents, about 5,000 of whom are Black and more than 1,000 are Latino.
Dafis said some historical "digging" found that the township auxiliary police department, like others around the state and the U.S., were created as a civilian defense force through an emergency management role during World War II.
At least 12 other communities that maintain volunteer police departments do not allow auxiliary members to carry firearms, according to public records and officials who spoke to New Jersey 101.5. Springfield and North Brunswick were among the exceptions.
In Union County, some Springfield Township Police Auxiliary Officers are armed "after receiving the same PTC education and training as regular police officers," as well as being subject to psychological testing, Police Chief John Cook told New Jersey 101.5 in an email.
New auxiliary officers in Springfield are unarmed and work with an armed auxiliary officer for a period of time, usually at least one year, and are evaluated prior to being sent for PTC certified firearms training, Cook said.
Livingston Police Chief Gary Marshuetz said to New Jersey 101.5 that when he took over as chief two years ago, he stopped the practice of allowing new auxiliary officers to carry firearms. He "grandfathered" the township's longest servicing auxiliary officers to be able ton only carry when in uniform training or during an emergency, under state protocols.
"So simply put, our more senior members still do, but our newer officers do not," Marshuetz said.
North Brunswick municipal code is similar to what Maplewood recently voted to change, as it states, “Firearms assignments to auxiliary police will be made at the discretion of the local Chief of Police.”
Elsewhere in Middlesex County, there are no firearms carried by auxiliary police in Woodbridge, New Brunswick, Sayreville or Edison.
Dafis said he believes the Maplewood issue is a reflection of the tensions being seen on the national level.
"The argument here, what was on display here is the push and the pull, the tension that you're seeing nationally between what is right for now the present day versus legacy," he said.
"Legacy is important for information and for historical context and for research, so that our decisions are informed — we know where we were in order to decide where we need to go.
Dafis noted that other towns have auxiliary police that "do the same thing, without guns."
Newark Auxiliary Police, established by an ordinance adopted in 2017, do not permit firearms or lethal weapons for its members. “Members are trained in areas concerning public health, law enforcement techniques, CPR/first aid, use of force, crowd/traffic control and the power and authority of auxiliary police.”
In Teaneck, auxiliary police members serve the community without weapons as "they are not considered special police officers and have no power of enforcement or arrest. They are volunteers who assist the police department with traffic duties, storm issues, checking parks and playgrounds, and other non law enforcement details," according to Township Manager Dean Kazinci.
Dafis said that for each person who might argue that disarming any auxiliary police will leave the community less safe, the counter argument can be made that if a dozen volunteers being armed is what keeps the town safe, then why would the town keep its sizable, full-time roster of professional officers.
In addition to professional police officers and volunteer auxiliary police, there are a number of communities that hire special Class II officers to bolster law enforcement during particularly busy times. Those officers, often part-time, can carry firearms, as they help respond to public issues during the summer months in Shore towns.
Class II officers also have been hired to supplement police patrols and response during nights and weekends in some cities with business districts, such as Hoboken.
Messages were not immediately returned Wednesday seeking clarification on whether auxiliary police departments in Middletown, Livingston, Old Bridge, Perth Amboy, Rahway and Union Township allow for the use of firearms.