CAMDEN — Matters came to a head on two fronts Monday in the controversial two-year effort to replace Camden's police department with a county-run force.
Scores of grim-faced city police officers, including some who had just finished shifts, filed into their union hall Monday evening, apparently to hear the terms of a proposed contract from the county ahead of the transition.
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Few details were immediately available, but the event included leaders of the state Fraternal Order of Police, who have been involved in the process of trying to mediate a deal on concessions sought by the city and county.
County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. said late Monday that if the terms were approved, the new force could likely hire more Camden officers than initially planned.
In a text message, John Williamson, president of the Camden FOP, which represents rank-and-file officers, said the membership decided Monday not to vote until it received the terms in writing.
The closed-door meeting unfolded as the freeholders said they were prepared to sign off on start-up funding from the state to pay for the planned county force.
The agenda for Thursday's freeholder meeting lists a proposed resolution "accepting grant agreement with State of New Jersey, Department of Community Affairs, for start-up costs to operationalize the Camden County Police Department."
The start-up money would be the first financial commitment from Gov. Christie, who has long expressed support for a county force. But his office has not said how much it would commit to get the department going and sustain it.
Nearly 70 percent of the city's $150 million budget is funded by the state.
A source familiar with the situation said the grant was expected to be $5.5 million, which would cover a little more than half the projected $10 million in transition costs for the force, whose "metro division" is to replace Camden's current force, which has nearly 260 members.
The metro division, which would patrol only the city, is projected to have 400 uniformed officers and 100 civilians.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Community Affairs said it was premature to discuss funding Monday.
Police union officials have been skeptical of cost savings of roughly $14 million that county officials anticipate from eliminating extras such as shift differentials.
This month, officials approved laying off all the city's uniformed officers. Layoffs are tentatively set for April 30.
Officials say no more than 49 percent of the current officers would be hired for the county force to avoid having to comply with expired contracts. But more officers could be hired if a new contract is negotiated.
An officer at the union meeting said on condition of anonymity that members were told a three-person panel would decide which officers to rehire, with input from Chief Scott Thomson, who would also lead the new force.
"They're not guaranteeing anyone's job and nothing's in writing," he said, describing the atmosphere inside as hostile.
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