NJ cops say tickets, car impounding was money-making scheme
LAWRENCE (Mercer) — Township police officers claim in a lawsuit that they were forced to treat the public like an ATM for the local government by writing tickets and impounding cars.
The officers say that they were investigated and faced discipline if they did not adhere to the demanding quota.
The township manager, however, is defending police brass and suggested that the officers are engaging in a job slow-down as part of an ongoing labor dispute.
The lawsuit filed in Superior Court in Trenton, and first reported by the Trentonian, claims that after a September 2018 meeting with municipal department heads, Police Chief Brian Caloiaro ordered officers to issue more tickets because "revenue was down."
The chief implemented several ways to get officers to write more tickets including keeping a "shame list" posted in the briefing room that ranked officers by the number of tickets they wrote "as a way to shame officers into writing additional tickets," according to the lawsuit. Officers were often ridiculed during meetings, according to the civil complaint.
The lawsuit claims that the chief also took away officers' discretion in situations that they may have issued a warning instead of a ticket.
Officers were encouraged to impound vehicles so that a $300 cash or money order fee could be paid to get a vehicle back regardless of the verdict in their case. The ATM in the lobby of the police building had a $200 limit, forcing users to make two withdrawals and pay two transaction fees, the lawsuit says.
Some of the officers filing the lawsuit are also in the leadership of Policemen's Benevolent Association Local 119, one of two unions that represent Lawrence officers. They are local President Marc Caponi, Vice President Andres Mejia and members Scott Stein, Andrew Lee, Joseph Amodio and Hector Nieves.
Municipal Manager Kevin Nerwinski wrote a blog post saying that when Caloiaro became chief many officers were not enforcing traffic laws because they objected to the "style" of former chief Mark Ubry. The lack of enforcement had an effect on the township's finances and public safety, Nerwinski said.
"From a non-economic perspective, it means the streets in our community are less safe. From an economic perspective, it means that officers are being paid and not performing. The Judge, Court Administrator, the Deputy Court administrator, the staff and security guards are all being paid but doing dramatically less work. This is taxpayer money being wasted, and it’s unacceptable," Nerwinski wrote.
Nerwinski said that Caloiaro is a "good, honest hard working and dedicated police chief. I believe he is undeserving of this" and the township would defend itself in court against the allegations.
Nerwinski added that the plaintiffs in the suit "have followed the lead of a few and have gone astray of their oath, and that’s a shame."
A state law adopted in 2000 prohibits police ticket quotas for motor vehicle violations.
That law also prohibits police departments from using arrest or ticket volumes as the sole basis for personnel actions such as promotions, demotions, dismissals or earning benefits.
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