LINDEN, NJ — The city of Linden has introduced an ordinance to create the position of police director. Introduced by the city council at their June 21 meeting, Mayor Derek Armstead told the assembled crowd that creation of the position is necessary in moving the department forward. “I have a responsibility to the residents and to the city to make sure that the police department is operating effectively and smoothly as possible,” Armstead said. “I’ve seen some things in the past that I didn’t like, and I think that this is the appropriate way to address it.”
The ordinance also calls for the reinstatement of the position of deputy chief.
Armstead released a statement regarding his position. “As Mayor of the city of Linden and the head of the police department, I have been charged with making sure our police department provides the best services to our residents,” Armstead said. “Unfortunately, due to recent events concerning the conduct of some of our officers, I have been given no choice but to propose to City Council that the creation of the position of Police Director is necessary. This is not a criticism of the hard-working men and women of our police department, but rather it’s about making sure our police department operates in the most efficient manner,” he said.
Although Armstead did not refer to any specific officers or their conduct, it is believed by some at the department that the issues stem from the recent, high-profile charges against two Linden police officers. Last year, Officer Pedro Abad was charged with aggravated vehicular homicide after he allegedly took the wheel while intoxicated and drove the wrong way on the West Shore Expressway, colliding head-on with a tractor trailer truck.
His two passengers, one a Linden police officer, the other a police civilian employer, were killed. In May, Linden Sgt. William Turbett III, son of Linden police captain William Turbett, Jr., was arrested for selling marijuana, a charge he pleaded guilty to.
Daniel Antonelli, city attorney for Linden, indicated that the position of chief of police would remain. “The mayor’s proposal to create the position of police director does not change the chief of police’s responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the police department,” said Antonelli. “We believe the new position of police director, along with the reinstatement of the position of deputy chief, will provide the proper balance to ensure this department moves in the right direction.”
Martin Jedrzejewski, a Linden detective with the narcotics bureau and president of the Linden PBA, Local 42, told LocalSource that despite supporting the mayor’s efforts, the department is opposed to the creation of the position. “Although we support the mayor in his efforts to improve the operations and the image of the police department, we oppose the position of a police director,” said Jedrzejewski. “We support the office of police chief and believe that rather than appointing a civilian to a political position, the city shall respect the Civil Service process that is currently in place, a process that affords our members the opportunity to rise through the ranks of the Linden Police Department and reach the position of police chief, bringing with him or her the knowledge and experiences of this city and this organization to help effectively lead the department.”
But Armstead expressed confidence that there is still room for advancement in the department. “I’m confident that members of our department will still be able to advance,” Armstead said at the meeting of the council. “But at this time, I think that I need fresh set of eyes to look at some of the things at the department that, perhaps, as head of the department, I am not capable of seeing.”
Armstead also maintained that the position would not necessarily be terminal. “I don’t think we’ll need a police director forever,” Armstead said. “But I think we need one now to assist in moving this department forward.”
Linden councilman Peter Brown Jr. reiterated that no power is being taken from the department. “This ordinance is taking the powers that the mayor has, and giving it to someone with a police background,” said Brown. “This ordinance does absolutely nothing to take power away from the police department.”
Linden Police Superior Officers Association president and Traffic Bureau Commander, Lt. Michael Babulski told LocalSource that although he believes that the department needs change, he does not support the mayor’s decision. “We are dead set against the position of director,” said Babulski, who noted that the department is working with the mayor and the council to come up with a solution. “This opens the door to political patronage in the police department.”
Babulski said that the funds to pay for the position — which would bring with it a salary of more than $150,000 — should go toward hiring more officers in a department that he says is already understaffed. “We’d rather hire three cops for that money,” said Babulski.
But although there are conflicting opinions, Babulski said that Armstead and the department’s union have a good working relationship, and that the mayor has always been ready to work with the department. “The mayor has always been very open to our union and has an open-door policy,” said Babulski. “We have a very good relationship with the mayor and council.”
Linden councilwoman Lisa Ormon said that although she understood the department’s resistance, the council needed to move forward with the ordinance. “I do understand wholeheartedly the police department’s side and how you feel,” she said, addressing those assembled at the meeting. “But the other side is that we have to face the community with a lot of the things that are going on internally and we need to answer to them. I understand, but we need to fix the problem.”
Armstead believes that the restructuring of the department will serve both the residents of Linden, as well as members of the police department. “We can no longer wait for something else to happen” said Armstead. “We need to act now. By reinstating the position of deputy chief, it is my hope to restructure our police department by reducing the number of superior officers through attrition, which will allow more patrol officers on the street without incurring additional expenses to our taxpayers. With the additional new police hires and a restructuring of the police department, our residents will be better protected and served with more patrol officers on the street.”