HILLSIDE, NJ — The Hillside Police Department is responding to a claim made by Hillside Mayor Angela Garretson regarding her allegations of disparate hiring practices within the department.
Hillside Police Capt. Nick Lamonte addressed Garretson’s allegations of discriminatory hiring practices at the police department at the Dec. 20 meeting of the Hillside Township council, telling council members that the issue arose after an article appeared in a prominent New Jersey newspaper.
The Dec. 8 article states that Garretson said she “wanted to start hiring police in 2014, but discovered the department had violated state Civil Service regulations and may have discriminated against minority and women candidates.”
The article came on the heels of a meeting of the council just weeks earlier, where the council put a resolution on the table asking the mayor to hire new police officers.
The department is currently down 20 officers from the desired number of 78, to about 55.
The council voted unanimously in favor of the resolution at the Nov. 22 meeting, stating that they hoped that Garretson would give acting Hillside Chief of Police Louis Panarese the green light to hire the much-needed officers. Although the council passed the resolution, the mayor has the final say on hiring and has yet to act on the resolution.
The new hires must be enrolled in the police academy and have completed the required testing to be ready for the academy on Jan. 7.
The Star Ledger article seemed to take both council members and members of the police department by surprise, as the issue had allegedly not been raised previously to either the police department or the council.
According to the article, Garretson has stated that, “the violations caused civil rights groups, including the National Action Network, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and Black Mayor’s Alliance for Social Justice to raise questions about disparate treatment of candidates.”
Lamonte presented a report on hiring demographics for the department to the council, as well as posting the report on the department’s website. According to the report, the 2015 national average for both police and civilian employees at police departments showed that 13 percent of these hires were women and 27 percent were minorities.
Data from 2015 out of Hillside shows that 20 percent of department employees are female, while 41.5 percent are minorities, well above the national average.
Lamonte said at the meeting that as soon as the department got wind of the article, he reached out to all three organizations mentioned by Garretson.
“We reached out to all three of these organizations,” Lamonte told the council. “We heard there was an article and we reached out immediately. The National Action Network had no idea what we were talking about.”
Lamonte said that the department also offered to meet with all three organizations.
“We offered to meet with them and address any concerns they may have,” Lamonte told the council. “We’re still waiting for a response.”
LocalSource reached out to all three organizations but did not receive a response as of press time. Garretson also did not respond to LocalSource’s request for comment.
A source at the police department, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation, alleges that the claims are a stalling tactic on the part of Garretson.
“She’s using it as an excuse not to hire officers,” the source told LocalSource in a phone call. “We’re trying to work with the mayor, but she blames everyone else. There’s one common denominator here, and that’s the mayor.”
The source said that the department has gone over the list of hires for the Civil Service Commission with three different attorneys, and that the hiring process is fully transparent.
“People have left the department because of Garretson,” the source said. “These guys do a phenomenal job. We’re trying to move the department forward. That was a really low blow from Garretson.”
Hillside Councilwoman Diane Murray-Clements told LocalSource that Garretson has never once brought up the issue of disparate hiring practices within the police department and questions the mayor’s motivations.
“She has never addressed myself or the council regarding there being an issue,” Murray-Clements said. “Why would she bring this up now? I believe it is a smokescreen. She has no intentions to hire police officers, and this is her excuse to block the hiring process. Hillside residents want to live in a safe town with their families.”
Murray-Clements noted that the police department is “understaffed and overworked” due to past and future retirements, and that more money is spent on overtime because of the department’s shortage of employees. She also reiterated that the council voted to hire new officers for the next academy class starting in January.
“If they are not hired, we will not have any new officers in 2017,” Murray-Clements said.
Hillside Councilman Gerald Freedman also expressed concern over the mayor’s lack of action regarding new hires at the HPD.
“It’s racial,” Freedman told LocalSource in a phone call. “She refuses to hire a human,” he said of Garretson.
According to Murray-Clements, the township has seen increasing crime due to the shortage of manpower at the HPD. “We cannot attract people to invest in a town that continues to ignore the public safety problems,” Murray-Clements said.
“This town has seen increasing crime including car thefts, storefronts with illegal activity and home burglaries,” Murray-Clements said. “We need more police officers to be visible walking Maple Avenue and North Broad Street. We need the mayor to hire more officers. I’m asking the residents to start calling and writing the mayor every day until new officers are hired. The mayor needs to hire more police officers and stop abusing her powers because Hillside is suffering.”
Lamonte noted the department is ahead of the national average and that the department tries to hire only the best.
“We are fully transparent in our hiring process,” Lamonte told the council. “We hire the best. The community deserves the best. That’s all we’re looking for.”