The Metuchen ‘Stroller Moms’ were out in force at Monday’s Borough Council meeting.
They came to support Police Chief David Irizarry’s request for Council authorization to hire a 28th police officer. The borough is down to 26 officers after a recent resignation, Irizarry said. The Chief has the authority to hire a 27th officer, but needs Council approval to bring on number 28.
Council took the request under consideration and will make a decision at the meeting next month.
The ‘Stroller Moms’, one of whom actually brought her two children in a double-wide stroller to the microphone Monday night, want police to give greater focus to pedestrian safety. They spoke of cars driving through the borough ignoring crosswalks and not allowing pedestrians, including moms with strollers, to cross.
“It’s scary crossing the street,” said ‘Stroller Mom’ Jessica Weiss.
The situation will only get worse as the Pearl Street redevelopment and Whole Foods projects finish, bringing even more traffic into the borough.
Chief Irizarry pledged to keep a sharp focus on pedestrian safety, which he said has already been a top priority of the department. One officer, Ken Bauer, is dedicated to the Street Smart program, a pilot program that seeks to make municipalities more pedestrian friendly. However, Officer Bauer is out on worker’s compensation after being injured on the job this year.
Irizarry made a presentation before Council to try and demonstrate why the borough needs a 28th officer. Twenty eight officers seems to be the magic number of the borough, he said. In 2005, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs audited the borough’s agencies, including the police department, and recommended 28 officers as the minimum for the borough (31 was the maximum recommendation). [Ed note: A copy of the audit report showed the minimum number for the borough was 29. H/T to reader Tom Grant].
With his reduced staff, and with three officers this year on worker’s compensation leave, overtime shifts have gone up to the tune of 46 OT shifts from Jan. 1 to Sept. 14. “32 overtime shifts were due to four-man squads,” Irizarry said, explaining officers normally work in five-person squads.
Besides pedestrian and traffic issues, police perform numerous other functions including responding to calls, patrols, violations enforcement, running the D.A.R.E program and working various events around town. Officers even have to step in and work crossing guard duty when necessary. Metuchen is considering paying a company to provide crossing guards.
The Chief also said lower manpower brings up the issue of officer safety. This is even more important, he said, in today’s environment when every officer has a target on his or her back. “We’re targets these days. The more manpower the better,” he said.