Christie not (yet) pushing Camco police force

Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd with Council President Frank Moran (left) and Police Chief Scott Thomson. (Staff File Photo)

His administration may have drafted a "memorandum of understanding" toward creating the first county police department in the state, but Gov. Christie is not using his bully pulpit to push this idea. At least not yet.

When I asked the gov moments ago at a press conference about the plan to disband the Camden City police department and have Camden County take it over as a division of a new countywide force, he said this:

"From my conversations with [Camden] Mayor [Dana] Redd and the Freeholders in Camden they believe this is the right time for this idea, to move to a county police force, from a fiscal perspective and from a public safety perspective," he said.

I asked if the Camden City Council should agree to a county force because his state aid will be tied to their acquiescence. He said he is awaiting the Legislature to move on his bill to provide transitional aid to Camden and other poor municipalities, so conversations about such contingencies willl have to wait.

"I think what [the City Council] should keep in mind is their responsibilities to the community they serve," he said.

The Democratic political establishment in Camden County is pushing the idea hard, as my colleague Claudia Vargas wrote about this morning, here. And it is definitely in line with the mantra of shared services, which both parties see as a necessary step toward controlling the cost of the endless government in New Jersey.

But several questions remain. Here are some of mine, off the top of my head:

-If Camden is the only municipality that's part of the county department, will that just amount to a county takeover of the city department? And if so, will the burden of funding public safety in one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S. spread to county taxpayers in safe towns like Haddonfield and Cherry Hill? (No other town in Camden County has publicly shown interest in joining the department so far.)

-Will the unions sue the pants off everyone involved, and will it survive the courts? The proposed move is unprecedented in New Jersey, and with 51 percent of the police department slated to be laid off as part of the plan, police unions from around the state and country could push back, hard.

-And finally, speaking of unions, would any of this have happened if the Camden police union agreed to steep cuts in their contract last year in the face of threatened layoffs? Is this all a way to bust recalcitrant unions?

Clearly, creating a county force that saves money, preserves public safety and keeps Camden solvent is the kind of "big thing" that Christie would tout. But it appears he's going to wait a little while longer to see how things shake out before he puts his name on it.