TOMS RIVER – Dueling statements have been sent out by leaders in town over Mayor Daniel Rodrick’s plan to cut two captain positions and use the funding to fuel a year-round ambulance dedicated to the shore.
Rodrick has stated that Toms River is facing a $3.5 million budget shortfall that he blamed on the prior administration. “Still, we need more emergency medical responders. It’s a matter of life and death. The prior mayor and chief of police had four years to fix this crisis, but they did not. We are fixing it.”
A list of salaries and benefit costs were included on the second page of Rodrick’s two-page letter, characterizing the cost as “out of control” with nine of the management staff receiving more than $300,000 in salary and benefits annually.
“As Chief of Police, it is my duty to ensure that accurate information is disseminated so everyone in the community can make informed decisions about important matters that impact the safety and well-being of you and your family. Let me assure you that our PBA Police Officer Union, the FOP Supervisor’s Union and the Chief’s Office stand united with the increase in personnel in our EMT program,” his letter stated.
The letter went on to say, “the overall safety of our residents is our number one priority and we are proud of our average response time of 9.6 minutes by our EMTs in a community spanning 44 square miles.” He also noted that the police department had been seeking to hire more EMTs for some time.
“Unfortunately, even with extensive recruiting efforts, the pool of EMT applicants has been almost non-existent for some time, as other agencies are also in need of emergency medical personnel. Additionally, police officers outfitted with first aid equipment and defibrillators are also dispatched to emergency medical calls and often first on the scene to start emergency treatment in anticipation of the EMTs’ arrival,” Little wrote.
According to the chief, both police unions along with his office “stand united in opposition to the elimination of two captain positions to fund the EMT program. I have asked the mayor for an opportunity to discuss his concerns in relation to the potential unintended consequences of his decision to implement these cuts to our command staff. I believe there is a middle ground that is mutually beneficial to all involved, the police department, the governing body, and most of all, the members of the community.”
Little said the department has applied for a grant through the NJ Division of Community Affairs “to enter into a shared services agreement with another municipality to join forces and defray the cost. This is only one possibility. We are open to exploring others, but there is no rush to require hasty decisions that will have far-reaching implications.”
Little said the captains were, “critical to the effective and efficient operation of the police department,” he said. “They are my executive staff and each command entire bureaus totaling 335 employees (not 112) such as, sworn officers, Class 1, 2 and 3 Special Law Enforcement Officers (SLEO), as well as all civilian support personnel. In the past, the police department had a Chief, two Deputy Chiefs and four Captains.”
Currently, the department has a Chief and three Bureau Commanders, a reduction of four command positions. Chief Little noted a 2021 efficiency study conducted by the Government Strategy Group, which stated the department “operates extremely ‘lean and efficient’ with no recommendations to reduce personnel.”
Little also pointed out in the letter that the department has 162 officers which is the same number of officers it had two decades ago.
“The context of these numbers is significant, with the increase in calls for service then from 43,885 to 65,000 per year now, and a current population close to 100,000 residents, of which, U.S. Census data does not count motels or the burgeoning summer tourist population,” the Chief stated.
He added that the seven officers Rodrick said he approved hiring weren’t patrol officers, but seasonal, part-time Class 1 SLEO officers, “who patrol parks, the beach area and our municipal jail. These SLEO officers are not authorized to carry weapons and have no arrest powers.”
The chief explained the seven SLEO officers were hired as replacements for “the 15 SLEO officers lost last year due to them pursuing other full-time law enforcement employment. In reality, the police department is still short eight Class 1 Officers from last year with the possibility of losing two full-time sworn police officers through attrition this year, dropping the total end strength of full-time sworn officers from 162 to 158.”
Police Chief Little’s statement was posted to the police department’s Facebook page. That post was later removed without explanation.
Rodrick then issued a statement attacking Little’s response, saying he was “not being truthful with the residents of the township when he consistently and intentionally mischaracterizes the reallocation of funds from two retiring high-paid supervisory roles into eight life-saving emergency service officers.”
The mayor said no police officers would be losing their jobs and that he was not defunding the department. The first paragraph of his statement began with listing the $279,651 annual salary of Chief Little who he said “is one of the highest-paid public employees in the state of New Jersey and one of the highest paid law enforcement officials in the tri-state area.”
Rodrick’s statement added that, “Chief Little is costing Toms River taxpayers $391,843 a year. All in, just 31 men who comprise Toms River’s PD’s top brass are costing over $9 million a year. That’s an average of $300,000 a year per management position in the police department.”
“Salaries of police brass are out of control in Toms River and we need more emergency medical responders,” said Rodrick, who took office on January 1.
He said residents “have been experiencing ambulance wait times of as much as 30 minutes in some cases.” Rodrick wants to change that by adding another ambulance on the road 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “We can do that by hiring another eight emergency medical officers. That would give the police department enough EMTs to get the job done and save lives.”
The mayor plans on not backfilling two $350,000-a-year retiring captain positions to pay for the new Emergency Medical Officers. “We need more boots on the ground. It’s a matter of life and death.”
He noted that two police Captains will be retiring from the department in the coming months.
“Not backfilling the two positions will save taxpayers $700,000 a year,” he said.
He added, “This is about a few police officers not getting promotions. Police officers in New Jersey are the highest-paid officers in the United States according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Toms River Police officers are well compensated and among the highest paid in New Jersey.”
Rodrick noted in his statement of January 31, “we are restructuring in other areas of the township to ensure the taxpayers are not paying for services and positions we do not absolutely need and that the town is being run more efficiently and cost-effectively.”