ELIZABETH, NJ — Rank-and-file police officers in Elizabeth have sent a stark message to the biggest brass in town, Elizabeth Police Director James Cosgrove, and they are pulling no punches. They are not pleased with the status quo over at the Elizabeth Police Department — and they are shouting it from the rafters.
Last month, the Police Benevolent Association voted 105 to 88 in favor of “no confidence” in Cosgrove. Just days later, the Superior Officer’s Association — the union representing sergeants, lieutenants, and captains — followed suit, putting forth a “no confidence” vote of 35 to 27.
Cosgrove is a longtime supporter of Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage, a Democrat who has served six terms as mayor.
Bollwage, who is running unopposed this year for a seventh term, appointed Cosgrove back in 1998. Cosgrove has close ties with Bollwage and has been a strong supporter of the mayor, donating to his 2012 reelection campaign.
Cosgrove was formerly part of Newark’s police force, where he worked for 31 years and rose to the rank of deputy chief before coming to the 300-member department in Elizabeth.
Although the “no confidence” vote is largely symbolic, the unions can file a lawsuit if they believe that Cosgrove is violating the law.
Cosgrove did not respond to LocalSource’s request for comment.
LocalSource has obtained a copy of the grievances against Cosgrove put forth by the SOA.
The list of allegations against Cosgrove is long, and it includes such charges as Cosgrove allegedly interfering with Internal Affairs investigations, creating an atmosphere where “supervisors cannot trust the disciplinary system,” and creating a “hostile working environment among the different races within the Police Dept.”
The SOA also mentions Bollwage. “The Police Director has run several fundraisers for the Mayor of the City,” reads the document. “He has created an atmosphere where you need to contribute to his fundraiser or other fundraisers to gain a promotion to supervisor or detective.”
A former member of the Elizabeth Police Department, who requested anonymity, told LocalSource that Cosgrove has been a problem for a long time. “This man has hurt a lot of people,” he alleges. “And Bollwage doesn’t care.”
A spokesperson for Bollwage did not return LocalSource’s request for comment.
LocalSource reached out to Elizabeth council members Frank Cuesta, Patricia Perkins-Auguste, Manny Grova, Jr., Nelson Gonzalez, Kevin Kiniery, William Gallman, Jr., Frank Mazza, and Carlos Torres, all of whom did not respond to a request for comment.
In addition, the grievance notes the alleged hostile work environment created by Cosgrove.“The police director has created a hostile working environment for captains by referring to captains as useless, taking away unmarked police cars from captains as a form of retaliation, installing a glass door in the patrol captain’s office, changing working hours of patrol captains to avoid paying night differential pay, and changing working hours of patrol captains for no reason at all.” He is also accused of denying and delaying promotional opportunities to all supervisors by not calling for a deputy chief’s exam.
The document also states that Cosgrove has allegedly taken away jobs from police captains and has ordered captains to work as desk sergeants, a violation of the SOA contract.
Cosgrove is accused of skipping SOA members on promotional lists as a form of retaliation and for allegedly not promoting SOA members “as a form of retaliation for questioning a civil service list.”
Myriad contractual violations are cited as well, including allegedly “not covering vacant desk lieutenant positions with a lieutenant on overtime,” allegedly “assigning untrained lieutenants to cover vacant desk lieutenants positions,” and “not crediting SOA members with full vacation time starting January 1 of the calendar year.”
According to the SOA, Cosgrove has allegedly understaffed the police department and created a unit of untrained sheriff’s officers to patrol the streets of Elizabeth. “This has created a liability for members of the SOA,” the document reads. “There is no written policy of the sheriff’s officers patrolling the City of Elizabeth. Union County taxpayers are paying to have sherriff’s officers patrol the City of Elizabeth.”
Cosgrove has also allegedly threatened the SOA that he would bankrupt them.
“The Police Director interferes and involves himself in matters of contract negotiations affecting officers’ livelihoods,” said the SOA members in the document. “The Police Director has engaged in differential treatment resulting in negative consequences for officers who are outspoken about policies they don’t agree with, while rewarding officers who are sycophants (a person who praises powerful people in order to get their approval) of his.”
Cosgrove’s attitude and behavior toward superior officers is described in the document as “the consistent open vilification of Elizabeth Police Superior Officers to the elected officials, employees. and public,” and “open, direct, unsubstantiated accusations of inactivity, malfeasance, malingering, and inept qualities of the Elizabeth Police Superior Officers leading to poor employee morale, distrust of management and the undermining of the chain of command.”
Cosgrove is cited as allegedly “micromanaging to the point of relieving the supervisor’s ability to manage employees.” and “eliminating the supervisor’s ability to function by establishing rules that emphasize process over practicality.”
Some of the other accusations flung at Cosgrove include allegedly placing cost savings over employee safety and operational functionality, failure to set policy parameters, and Cosgrove’s alleged irresponsible attitude towards much-needed manpower. “Supervisors will be chastised for hiring two hours in overtime to ensure proper manpower for a patrol shift or guard duty, but thousands will be spent to appease a political event,” reads the complaint. “The forced documentation of supervisor activities has gone way beyond the establishment of personnel accountability. The manipulation of supervisor slots to benefit political aspirations over the success of the police department and welfare of the citizens of the City of Elizabeth. Decisions are based upon a system of politics that seeks to consider at first only the interest of a few people who belong to a dominant party. The manipulation leads to operational decisions beyond the scope of policy, forced through the office of chief of police,” the document said, referring to Elizabeth Chief of Police Ronald Simon.
Also cited is Cosgrove’s alleged direct involvement in internal investigations, as well as allegedly acting in the capacity of hearing officer. The document accuses Cosgrove of allegedly “taking an active part in IA Investigations, directing IA personnel on daily business, requiring updated briefings on active cases, then acting as the hearing officer,” reads the document. “Delivering disparaging adjudications of internal hearings based upon the political clout of the recipient. Examples include the wide spectrum of selective-penalties based upon whim and influence. Certain employees are granted buyouts and unquestioned sick time, while other claims are denied and medical conditions scrutinized.”
Malevolent surveillance finishes off the long list of grievances. Cosgrove is accused of allegedly creating a “private policing
system” in which “civilian employees”
are charged with the “sole purpose to monitor the movements of police personnel. Video surveillance, GPS tracking, and paperwork monitoring completed not for law enforcement purposes, but evidence collection for the sole purpose of future retaliatory need.”
Elizabeth Councilman Carlos Cedeno told LocaLSource that the unions’ vote of no confidence is concerning. “The vote of ‘no confidence’ made by the police unions is a matter of concern,” said Cedeno in an email. “As a councilman and resident of this city, I think it is important for everyone to be purposeful to work together to improve the overall relations in the police department and within our community at large.”