ELIZABETH, NJ — City officials continue to be unresponsive to complaints within the police department regarding anger over a new policy that many officers feel is “unethical and unfair,” but officers maintain the residents will soon begin to feel the effects of a threatened “slowdown” if their demands are not met.
In fact, sources say an unfair labor practice grievance has been filed by the PBA attorney against Police Director James Cosgrove following a PBA and SOA union meeting held last week. A vote of no confidence for the director was also expected at the meeting, but sources say that vote did not happen.
The meetings are usually held separately, sources said, but because the issues of an automated attendance system and selective punishment, are “huge topics including everyone, and supervisors also pay PBA dues, it was done altogether.” The problem, sources say, is that “officers and detectives will not speak up when they see a supervisor, especially ones that are influenced by the mayor, director and chief.”
In order for a no confidence vote to take place, one PBA member must stand up and make a motion for the vote. The motion must then be seconded by another officer.
“Officers wanted to stand up, even supervisors, but there were too many eyes there and they got apprehensive to speak out,” said one officer. “Now they want to do another meeting with no supervisors involved. People are afraid to speak out. Speak out in the Elizabeth Police Department and your done, finished. You can kiss your career goodbye, and that has become the law here.”
At the meeting, the PBA did discuss the threatened slowdown of the department, and the PBA urged officers to not completely shut down, warning officers that they could get in trouble, according to sources. Officers were told to “do their jobs and that they have to respond, as everyone is watching.”
But according to sources in the Elizabeth Police Department, the slowdown has already begun, with “officers and supervisors slowing down,” said one source. “The city will feel the effects soon. The director has destroyed the morale with his unfairness.”
Morale has been a constant battle at the Elizabeth Police Department. Sources say that officers are afraid to speak up and are worried about their careers if they do. Sources have also indicated that the director arbitrarily punishes some people and not others for similar mistakes.
“There was a peculiar buzz around headquarters today,” said one source last Friday after LocalSource’s article hit newsstands last week. “Everyone was hanging outside, talking, laughing, just like there was life again. A sign of hope filled the atmosphere. Officers believed again. But the director and mayor struck back fast … and anytime their names come up, officers gasp for breath, bringing them down again.”
The grievance LocalSource was unable to obtain a copy of the unfair labor practice grievance before press time, and the lawyer representing the Elizabeth PBA Local No. 4 did not respond to repeated phone calls before press time. However, sources did share some information about the official complaint.
“What we are grieving is the use of the fingerprint machine for certain individuals, and not including everyone,” said one officer.
The automated attendance and payroll system protocol excludes “certain supervisors, including the deputy chiefs, the chief, the director, and certain detectives, including crime analysis detectives, traffic detectives, training detectives and patrol detectives. All of them are protected by the mayor, director and chief. It also excludes the entire patrol division.”
Members of the PBA and SOA have been attempting to work with the director, according to sources, but have been shut out at every turn. According to sources, officers do not want to institute a slowdown of police force, but feel they have no other choice. They say they have had enough and the director must go.
The mayor has also been described by sources as “ruthless.”
“If we speak up, we are terminated. The mayor, the director and the chief all rule like this. So we ask everyone, what is there to do? Where do we go for help?”
“We are asking again, can someone help us? Does anyone care?” said another source. “Mayor, director, chief, include everyone in your fingerprint machine or get rid of it. We will win in court. We will fight you to the end, but now our citizens will suffer and not because of us, but because you refuse to help, you refuse to answer. We follow our leaders, and you lead by example. We are following your lead. You refuse to help, then so will we.”
‘Taxpayer money out the door’ at Oakwood Plaza. The grievance, however, is just the beginning, according to sources inside the department. They also take strong issue with how the understaffed officers are being utilized.
LocalSource reported in the past that the table of organization for the Elizabeth Police Department calls for 365 officers, but only has 286 on staff. According to sources, this is because the mayor and director have been trying to cut costs.
But beyond this shortage, sources within the department are also raising serious allegations and concerns with how they are utilized, particularly at Oakwood Plaza.
In 2009, the New York Times reported that the Oakwood Plaza section of Elizabeth was in need of a facelift, and that is exactly what Mayor Chris Bollwage intended to give it. The Times reported that Bollwage said “The crime-ridden element in Oakwood Plaza is driving up the drug trade throughout the city. Some dealers are living in Oakwood and some are driving up to buy it on the street.”
The property was bought by CIS, a developer who specializes in affordable housing, for $27.5 million, but according to the Times, it came with a lot of government help.
Union County issued $16.5 million in bonds to lend to CIS, and the city of Elizabeth guaranteed to cover half of the bond amount if CIS did not earn enough revenue to pay the county back. In addition, the Times reported that CIS also received $4 million from a state fund.
This means of financing the project was seen as controversial and unconventional at the time, and was heavily criticized, and ultimately the state legislature had to step in to help Oakwood Plaza get off the ground.
Sen. Ray Lesniak lives just five houses away from Oakwood Plaza. In 2009, two individuals broke into Lesniak’s house in the middle of the night and he found himself waking up to the wrong end of a pistol in his face. The intruders took money, keys and his phone, and fled. Since that time, Lesniak has been a strong advocate for a number of related causes.
According to The Record, Lesniak said “They went back where they came from: Oakwood Plaza.”
Oakwood Plaza, in the end, was awarded a $20 million grant from the Department of Community Affairs, and while the grant process was called into question, Lesniak was one of its defenders.
But when the economy took a hit during the recession, so did construction. And then in May of 2010, Lesniak got legislation passed the senate that would dedicate funding to Oakwood, according to The Record. By November of 2010, however that legislation became irrelevant when the senator got another sponsored bill passed that involved the Council on Affordable Housing law and allows cash transfers for projects like Oakwood within the Department of Community Affairs.
And this connection to Lesniak is likely why sources in the Elizabeth Police Department have been saying his name and Bollwage’s in the same sentence when they talk badly about the Oakwood project.
According to sources, officers that are used to provide security at housing developments, and in other areas, are usually chosen through a “pay job” system. This system involves housing developments offering off duty officers up to $30 an hour, with the city taking a cut. According to sources, this happens everywhere in the city, except at Oakwood Plaza.
“Oakwood used to hire officers as well,” said one officer. “However, once this project got started, Lesniak and the mayor got involved, hired the company, and saved them money by assigning police officers free of charge, at the expense of city residents who suffer from less officers. Their taxes pay for this, not the developer, and police officers suffer as well because there are more jobs to handle. Because they have an interest in the project, the mayor and Lesniak pull the cops from out of the table of organization.”
This means instead of the usual off-duty officers making extra money while not needed, the department’s already stressed table of organization suffers further, sources
said. Instead of being short on 79 officers, the department is short 95, and at the expense of taxpayers, not the
At Mravlag Manor, for example, off-duty police officers take pay jobs at the housing project at a cost of $30 an hour to the owner of the property. And because they are off duty, it does not affect the table of organization.
“Most officers there actually like it,” said one source about Oakwood Plaza, “because all they do is watch equipment, protect the building from vandalism and observe it being built. But it’s for political gain. What are they doing? Absolutely nothing, and that’s not their fault. They are assigned by the director and chief. They are only there for visual effect, a presence for the mayor and the senator. Why does the city have to pay?”
“The citizens should all get together and file a lawsuit, suing the city and the company involved as their tax money paid for all of this,” said one source. “This has been going on since the project started, so you can imagine how much money is involved.”
“Mayor Bollwage and Sen. Lesniak are doing this only for their gain, and the citizens pay for this, and we mean that literally,” said another source.
“The officers assigned at Oakwood can only handle jobs assigned to the apartments,” said another source. That’s 16 officers that we’re taking off the streets to protect citizens. Taxpayer money out the door.”
One could make the argument that the police presence is needed in the “crime-ridden” area, as Bollwage called it in 2009. But recent articles would demonstrate that the continued police presence in the area has had little effect.
In May of 2015, NJ.com wrote a lengthy article with the headline “Families Flee a Neighborhood After Violence.” The article details recent shootings in the area and inside the buildings, and follows Janeen Holmes, the then vice president of the Elizabeth chapter of the People’s Organization for Progress. Holmes fled the neighborhood for Georgia after her outreach did nothing to stem the tide of violence.
Mayor Bollwage, Police Director James Cosgrove, Police Chief Patrick, the PBA president and the attorney representing the PBA did not return repeated calls by press time. An Open Public Records Act request for the unfair labor practice grievance was not fulfilled by press time.