|Posted by Occh on December 12, 2010 at 7:52 PM|
TRENTON — With more than 200 young police officers already laid off statewide and hundreds more facing a similar fate, Gov. Chris Christie has signed a bill that could make their road to re-employment a little smoother.
Under the bill, which Christie signed into law on Thursday, officers laid off for "reasons of economy" during their first year of police work will no longer have to re-take the civil service exam or repeat the police academy. The law also gives laid-off officers five years of priority status, meaning cities can re-hire them ahead of people on future civil service lists.
"This isn’t as good as having a job but at least these kids know they don’t have to give up on their careers," said Assemblyman Albert Couthino (D-Essex) who, along with Sen. Ronald Rice Sr. (also D-Essex) drafted the bill after cutbacks in Newark were first discussed.
Rice said the old system, under which laid off officers with less than a year on the job would have to return to the academy and retake civil service tests, was unfair.
"It gives them a little bit of hope," he said. "We’re doing whatever we can to give them some hope and some faith, and hopefully get them back to work."
The bill cleared the governor’s desk less than two weeks after Newark laid off 167 officers and Camden announced plans to dismiss half of its police force due to budget problems. Atlantic City laid off 60 officers earlier this year, but hired back 17 in recent weeks, and Jersey City also stands to lose ten percent of its cops without union concessions. Orange is planning to lay off several officers next month.
Under state guidelines, rookie cops must complete one year of service in good standing to hold the title of police officer. Previously, if officers failed to complete that first year for any reason, including a layoff, they would have to essentially "start from scratch," Couthino said.
Derrick Hatcher, president of Newark’s Fraternal Order of Police, called the bill "historic" and said it will bring some comfort to younger cops who have lost their jobs.
"I applaud all the legislators involved for moving the bill so quickly and looking out for the officers of the city of Newark," Hatcher said. "This means a lot to them as they weather the storm of the layoffs."
It may also help keep a lot of officers in New Jersey. Dozens of young officers in Camden and Newark have been contacted by recruiters from Nashville, Atlanta and other southern police departments hoping to supplement their agencies with New Jersey’s castaway cops.
For 30-year-old Dustin Antonio, a rookie officer in Newark who was laid off two weeks ago, the new law is the first glimmer of hope he’s seen since Mayor Cory Booker started discussing layoffs in June.
"I’m appreciative of the assemblyman. He actually called the FOP to start that bill, so we appreciate that," he said. "It’s the only positive thing to happen in the past few months."
By James Queally and Chris Megerian/The Star-Ledger