Does anyone in Elizabeth care?

Despite potential public safety risks, city officials remain unresponsive

ELIZABETH, NJ – If the Elizabeth police director does not rescind a recent order and step down from his position, officers are threatening to become unresponsive to the public. They say they have lost all confidence in their leaders, and unless changes are made they will begin doing the bare minimum, putting the safety of the city’s residents in jeopardy.

Since these revelations appeared in LocalSource, it would appear city officials are completely unresponsive to their demands and their threats, setting the stage for what can only be described as very serious public safety concerns for the residents of the city.

During this past week, multiple attempts were made to contact the mayor, the police director, the police chief, the PBA president, and Sen. Ray Lesniak, and emails were sent to every city council member. The response has been a completely muted city. Each attempt to reach these individuals was met with “no comment” at best, and at worst phones ringing endlessly.

Lesniak was the only person to acknowledge he was contacted by LocalSource, simply saying “I cannot comment on anonymous complaints. My door is open to anyone who wants to speak to me about them.”

In the past, it was no different. When LocalSource wrote about allegations regarding drinking in the police department, no-show jobs and internal corruption, anyone reached for comment declined to do so, citing their lack of compassion for anonymous sources.

A stark difference, however, over previous allegations is that threats of this nature were never made. “The police department will shut down,” sources told LocalSource last week. “No more proactive cops. No more solved crimes. No more help. We will just drive by with our eyes closed.”

The latest straw to break this camel’s back is the installation of a new automated time, attendance and payroll system that scans fingerprints of officers when they begin and end their tour of duty. Sources say those being forced to use the machines are being singled out, and many in the department are exempt from using the new system. Those exempt, sources say, are being “protected” by the police chief and director. The same sources say they have the strength of the department behind them, and they won’t rest until the police director steps down or is removed from office.

Residents will soon know for sure if the strength of the whole department is behind these claims, with sources indicating a union meeting was expected to be held on Tuesday, Oct. 20, to take a vote of no confidence in the director and police chief, in addition to discussing selective enforcement of punishments within the department, police body cameras, and the new automated attendance system. Full details of that meeting will be featured in next week’s LocalSource. In addition, an unfair labor practice lawsuit is also expected to be filed on Monday, Oct. 26, unless the order is rescinded.

Since last week’s article hit newsstands, LocalSource has heard from even more sources within the police department who wish to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. One source called simply to say “every word of your article was completely true.”

Remarks like this one should be sounding alarms in the mayor’s office, as well as in the offices of the police director and police chief. Should the Elizabeth police follow through with their threats, they leave vulnerable a population of around 125,000 residents.

Sources in the department have noted that they are already operating with a smaller staff than is required for a city this size. The table of organization for the city calls for 365 officers, and only 286 are on staff. With this limited manpower, the city has thus far in 2015 seen eight murders, 29 rapes, 426 robberies – 200 of them with dangerous weapons – 345 assaults, 501 burglaries, 1,592 thefts, and 646 motor vehicle thefts. These numbers are still unofficial, but are the latest statistics available from the Uniform Crime Report compiled by the State Police. Should the mayor, police director, police chief and senator for the district continue to remain unresponsive, these are the statistics that the residents may face on their own.

One resident called LocalSource last week after reading about this issue. He was very concerned for the safety of the residents, and his family.

“My family is there,” he said. “I have a grandchild in that city. He walks to and from school everyday.” This resident asked to remain anonymous because of his affiliation with numerous groups in Elizabeth.

“The slowdown will be the result of the director, not us,” said one source when specifically asked if there is concern among the police officers about putting residents in danger. “Officers want to continue to be officers, but how do you work with a tyrant dictator? We have rights. We all have families. We are human beings. How does a man such as this have so much power to ruin citizens’ lives and to put them at risk? Very easy answer: the mayor refuses to get involved and lets this dictator do as he pleases. We have had enough.”

When city officials declined to comment, did not return phone calls or were unreachable, LocalSource reached out to more officers in the department to learn about their response to the article.

One source noted that the mayor made sure to stop by the department to make his presence known, and that the director was seen laughing after hanging up on LocalSource. Most sources shared with LocalSource just how serious they are taking these threats of lackluster law enforcement.

“We can’t take it anymore. We bust our [butts], handle job after job, only to get criticized by the director and for him to look at ways to book us,” said one officer, who explained “book” means to file charges against an officer.

“This guy only punishes who he wants to and picks who to go after,” another officer shared with LocalSource.

“This guy,” said one officer. “Who the hell does he think he is? He must forget he was a cop once, too. How the hell does he come up with a policy and not include everyone? He only singles out who he wants. It’s time for him to resign.”

“The director has to resign,” said another officer. “He has over extended his stay. He is now purposely hurting his officers. He is affecting our city, and the citizens will be the ones paying for his tyrannic rule.”

“We are going to take it this far”

The threat to the city, to the residents and the open door policy to the criminal element is not something that most would take lightly, and yet sources continue to say that they have not been greeted with any response.

LocalSource is not the only entity that has so far been ignored by city officials. According to sources, the PBA and SOA presidents attempted to explain to the director recently that the fingerprinting machine is not supported within the department, and listed other examples of cities trying similar methods that backfired. Union and Newark both tried to implement similar systems, sources say, and they were abandoned early on due to similar concerns and prejudices.

The response from the director to the PBA president, according to sources, was “Get out of my [expletive] office and don’t come back.”

The SOA president, who recently attempted to speak with the director multiple times, according to sources, was told to “get out” by the director.

More recently, according to officers within the department, the SOA president and vice president were described to LocalSource as “passively protesting” the new attendance machine by not enrolling in the program. On Monday, sources indicated that they were called into the deputy chief’s office and with an order handed down from the director were told to enroll in the program or face suspension. The pair enrolled.

Sources also say that police officers have tried reaching out to the mayor by mailing several anonymous letters, with one being sent just last week. This was the fourth such letter they claim to have sent. A copy of the most recent letter was provided to LocalSource.

“We are going to make this letter brief, as you didn’t acknowledge the other letters that were written to you,” the letter to Mayor Christian Bollwage begins. “As we asked for in the past letters, we are asking for equality for your officers. The machine, as you know, is intended for certain officers. This is discriminatory, unethical, unlawful and entirely illegal. We are asking one last time, for the sake of the department and your citizens in Elizabeth, to include every police officer, every civilian, including the director, the fire department and city hall.

“We are not threatening you, sir,” the letter continues. “We just want complete equity across the board. As we have stated in our past three letters written to you, if this is not done, we will not support you.”

The letter goes on to talk about the potential slowdown by the department, and asks for the director to resign, but it also hints at other secrets the officers have not yet shared.

“Nothing will be kept secret anymore,” the letter states. “Everything will come out and we will use every source available at our discretion. We have supported you throughout all the years, and still want to support you and fight for the citizens we protect. Please, be the mayor you once were, support your troops on this.”

The letter concludes by saying it is sent from a “united group of officers” that are “tired of feeling like hostages to this director. Let’s end this now, sir.”

Police officers have made numerous pleas to city officials to help them with their plight. They have even gone so far as to threaten the slowdown, but have made it clear that scenario is avoidable. The mayor, according to sources, has been completely unresponsive to their fight, but Bollwage has been busy on the social media platform Twitter.

“The Elizabeth Board of Ed majority is dysfunctional and corrupt yet the Christie Administration allows it to continue,” Bollwage posted to Twitter last weekend.

“Funny, he’s calling the board of Ed and Christie corrupt,” said one officer in response, noting that perhaps the mayor should take a look in-house before he points fingers elsewhere.

Because of the serious nature of the slowdown, at least one officer was specifically asked if the police force truly intended to make good on their threats. His response was clear.

“Yes, we are going to take it this far,” the officer said. “We are slowing down, driving by and turning around. We are not stupid. We won’t risk our jobs. If we are seen, we will stop. We know there is GPS in the cars and radios, but people are not getting it. We will not put our full potential into the job anymore. The department will get half, if that.

The detective bureau will investigate half of their full potential. The cops will only handle jobs they are sent to and drive by if they can get away with it. Instead of driving top speed to get to a job, we will take our time, letting suspects flee, victims get hurt. Can you imagine? And it is because we have had enough of this regime. Get rid of the director and chief. Their cancer has spread enough throughout our department. Now it’s spreading to our citizens.

“If you think this is going too far,” the officer continued, “blame your mayor. Blame your director. Blame your chief. Those are the ones you blame for this. Leaders lead by example, and we are following their example. Blame them. We only ask for the mayor to include every officer from the director himself on down for this new policy, or remove it entirely, and what do we get? No response. No one cares.”

Mayor Christian Bollwage did not return repeated calls. Police Director James Cosgrove did not return repeated calls. Police Chief Patrick Shannon did not return repeated calls. Sen. Lesniak declined to comment on anonymous sources. All nine city council members did not respond to an email asking for comment.

2 Responses to "Does anyone in Elizabeth care?"

  1. Roger   October 25, 2015 at 10:39 am

    Vote Republican on Nov. 3rd and send a message that the same old, same old is not acceptable. Roger Stryeski, Assembly LD 20 GOP candidate.

  2. Lacconda   October 31, 2015 at 3:46 pm

    Policing in Elizabeth has been in perils for years. Most residents support the Director’s decision about the timekeeping equipment since overtime billing by policemen is still out of control! But then, it should include everyone with the right to work and bill for overtime. In the last two weeks I could observe three instances with police officers berating, insulting, and using expletive words with drivers pulled over by simple infractions like having a blinker on to turn to a road undergoing paving work, partially blocked by a police car, the traffic jam in that section of Division St. was immense around 8:15 a.m. It appears like some officers are airing their frustrations on innocent civilians, drivers, and ultimately taxpayers, which is a dangerous game. Chris Bollwage getting involved in police matters? I doubt it. That requires courage, and might also add risks to another potential reelection bid, which is his only concern. The constant hostility for power grab with the Board of Ed is only a smokescreen to look concerned and active…..