Trenton's "Missing Mayor" offered up a typically shallow and empty statement of surprise and non-blame regarding the city's weak financial status in a "closed" press conference this afternoon.

Read his prepared remarks here or at:



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The Community, the Police, and the Palmer Years PDF Print E-mail
Written by William Trent   
Sunday, 09 September 2007

“Changing the police department through a referendum. You take on the police - and I got rid of the fire chief, too - and they're bonded to kick your butt.”  - Doug Palmer, identifying his Greatest Triumph as quoted in Esquire magazine, September 2007.

So here is the Chief Executive of the State Capital of New Jersey citing the fact that upsetting the Police Department is his greatest accomplishment.  Doesn’t speak very well of his leadership does it?

Without a doubt other Mayors, in Trenton and elsewhere, have had their differences of opinion with Police Unions.  But when it came down to it, the Police are there to Protect and Serve and the Mayor does what is needed to provide a quality service to their constituents.  When communication and cooperation breaks down, do you brag about it as your “Greatest Triumph?” Let’s look at some of the facts surrounding Mayor Palmer’s accomplishments in Public Safety and you can determine for yourself if you agree with hizzoner’s appraisal.

Overtime Over Budget Trenton’s Police Overtime spending has grown from $1.7 million in fiscal 1998 to over $8 million in fiscal 2007.  With the exception of 2002 when it dropped slightly ($2.6 million vs. 2001’s $2.8 million), the increases have been coming fast in furious.  Overtime costs have more than doubled since current Police Director Joseph Santiago was appointed. 

This is fiscal mismanagement of the highest degree. 

In order to pay for the overtime that exceeds the budgeted amount, the City must take money from other departments and give it to the Police Department.  This shortchanges the taxpayer on other city services.

Along with the dollar cost of this overtime comes the mandatory overtime that finds a lot of officers working extended shifts of 15 hours or more.  Many are forced to cancel planned activities and vacations when they lose their days off.  The force is demoralized and tired. The city is fortunate there hasn’t been a serious incident due to the emotional and physical exhaustion of its police rank and file.

Mayor Palmer, his appointed Police Director, and his Chief of Staff have consistently stated that it is not a lack of bodies but rather inefficient scheduling that drives this overtime figure.

What Does That Money Get You

Trenton had a record number (31) of homicides in 2005.  While the number decreased to 20 in 2006, there are currently 17 homicides on the books and the city is on track to meet or beat the 2005 record.

It’s very hard to judge the rest of the city’s published crime statistics.  While the reported numbers are lower in some categories, there are persistent questions about how some crimes are classified.  Certainly the notion that crime is down across the city is not consistent with the experiences and feelings of many residents.

There is increasing distrust on the part of the public at large of any statements made or statistics released by Mayor Palmer or Director Santiago.  In the fall of 2006, the Police Director abruptly stopped making information on crimes readily available to the media and the matter ultimately had to be handled through a meeting with the County Prosecutor.   It continues to be difficult to get regular crime stats and comparisons released to the public even though the information is compiled for the weekly COM Stat meetings.

It should be noted that the suspicion and distrust does not, as a rule, extend to the district commanders, their staffs and the patrol officers.  If anything the relationship between the community and the lower echelons of police department has improved over the past five or six years.

However, the management of the Police Department is, frankly, a mess. 

Questions of Ethics

The Police Director came to town with some rather unsavory baggage: he had resigned and thereby avoided penalties for illegal and/or improper acts committed while he headed up the New Jersey State Police Department; there are alleged ties to mobsters; and he was guilty running an illegal Police Foundation while heading up Newark’s police department.  Santiago’s appointment must have been recognized as controversial because there was a conscious effort by the Administration to bar the public from the announcement.  (It’s interesting to note that then Newark Mayor and State Senator Sharpe James came to Trenton to vouch for Santiago before Trenton’s City Council voted to approve the Mayor’s appointee.  James has since been indicted on Federal corruption charges.) 

Initially Santiago made an attempt to show compliance with the City of Trenton residency requirement for Department Directors by “living” at the Marriott downtown.  Later there were mentions of him residing in the Grand Court Villas, an old cigar factory converted to residential use.  Finally, Director Santiago claimed to be “renting a room” from Abe Hemsey (now retired), his assistant and “Chief of Administrative Services.”  The pretense of residing in Trenton was dropped awhile ago, all with the obvious knowledge and consent of Mayor Palmer.

Additionally, Mayor Palmer has welcomed two other refugees from the James’ administration in Newark.

Retired Police Captain Barry Colicelli has been retained as an $85,000 per year consultant to the Mayor.  Besides his fee, Mr. Colicelli has full-time use of a city police vehicle plus the gas for it and an office in City Hall near the Mayor’s.  The City of Trenton is not Mr. Colicelli’s sole client. The car is used for him to commute to/from his home at the New Jersey shore and one suspects it is used when he does work for other clients as well.

The latest addition to the City Administration is Irving Bradley.  Mr. Bradley also had a turn heading up the Newark Police Department, although he did so without ever making the rank of Captain or Deputy Chief first.  He resigned just prior to current Mayor Cory Booker taking over. Mr. Bradley has a criminal record stemming from an incident where he was driving under the influence, evaded arrest and in the process assaulted an officer.  Still, he was deemed fit by Director Santiago and Mayor Palmer to head up the Communications Division (radio room) even though such an appointment may violate laws about convicted felons having access to certain criminal databases. The city at large is holding its breath to see which neighborhood Mr. Bradley moves into as a city employee.

Cronyism isn’t only extended to those who held favor with Sharpe James. Director Santiago has seemingly made it an unspoken policy that there are two standards for disciplining members of the Trenton Police Department.

Take the much publicized case of Captain Paul Messina, who holds a few positions of authority within the department as Captain of Patrol, head of Professional Standards, and Commander of the TAC and Metro Units. Captain Messina has been caught sleeping on duty twice and yet to stave off an Internal Affairs investigation he was “allowed” to plead guilty and take a five day suspension. Against standard policy and procedure, Messina retained possession of his police car and (presumably) his gun during the suspension.  Although the oversight was corrected once it was “discovered” (and made public) it raised a lot of eyebrows.

Captain Messina is a loyal underling of Director Santiago’s and is rewarded because of it.  There are many officers who have suffered worse punishments for lesser offenses, merely because they are not part of the “faithful.” There are other instances of similar unfair treatment.

After an incident involving some Trenton High students involved in a melee, one officer forgot to turn in his report and was suspended.  Another reportedly didn’t bother to submit a report and was given desk duty for a couple of days. This type of favoritism destroys morale and esprit de corps. And it does not foster a good and trusting relationship between the general public and the police administration.

It is no wonder so many crimes go unsolved because the public won’t come forward with the information they have.  How can they trust a department under such questionable leadership?

It therefore seems highly hypocritical of the Mayor to be traveling around the country espousing “best practices,” asking for tougher laws and demanding more cops on the street when he can’t seem to bring himself to accept and follow the same here at home.

If taking on the Police Department was his greatest triumph, it’s a shame for the businesses and residents of Trenton that he declared war on our men and women in blue instead of the criminals.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 12 September 2007 )
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