Letter regarding State Police patrols

ESKIL S. DANIELSON, MA CEM

18 Hunter Lane

Byram Township, New Jersey 07821

973-347-6676

August 7, 2008

Editor

New Jersey Herald

Newton, NJ 07860

Re: August 7, 2008 Article - “Proposal Could Add Surcharge To Tickets”

Editor

Thank you for today’s front page article on the proposed $40 surcharge on motor vehicle violations. Although well intended, the bills will result in “Abbott-like funding” for law enforcement. I have relayed my feelings on the flaws of the bills (S-1976/A-2982) to appropriate authorities as follows:

First - The surcharge would apply to “any violation of the provisions of Title 39 of the Revised Statutes or any other motor vehicle or traffic violation in this state.” As written, this would include parking, registration and inspection violations as well as speeding, reckless driving and DWI. This is a far too broad a range of violations.

Second - Police officers and troopers are human beings who have their individual feelings and, most importantly, discretion. In the past, professional law enforcement officers have opted to use discretion when confronted with what they felt were unreasonable statutory penalties. Are they going to be willing to be used as “tax collectors,” a term already mentioned by some highly respected law enforcement officials?

Third - The local courts have to collect the surcharges and send them to the state which will then, in the case of municipalities having police departments, return a portion to the municipality for property tax relief. This is a convoluted process.

Fourth - Half of the monies collected (estimated net $80 million per year) will go to municipalities that have police departments. There are 477 police departments in the state with some 21,000 police officers covering about 96% of the population. Half goes to tax relief for 96% of the taxpayers?

Fifth - Half of the monies (another $80 million) will go to the NJSP (3,000 sworn personnel) to provide their 1921 charter-required responsibility to provide law enforcement services to rural municipalities. Half goes to police coverage/tax relief to 4% of the population? Where will the NJSP monies currently budgeted for rural coverage and supplanted by the surcharge go? To the urban areas that currently get NJSP anti-crime patrols without being assessed as the state wants to assess the rural communities?

Sixth - $80 million should support about 550 troopers or almost 20% of the entire current complement of the NJSP. Are they going to add that many troopers? Will they all be assigned to the rural municipalities?

Seventh - In the bills, some cities may receive up to $1 million per year in tax relief. In order to warrant that figure as their “fair share” the city would have to assess the surcharge on 1,000 traffic convictions per week. If the actual violations to be assessed on become only moving violations, it is hard to believe that any city will ‘earn’ the $1 million. Smaller departments will have to do so for them.

Eighth - Governor Jon Corzine has been encouraging “shared services and consolidation.” What municipality is going to start or continue these efforts in law enforcement when this lopsided legislation takes effect? Wouldn’t it be better to use some funds to encourage “shared services and consolidation”?

Ninth - The bills totally disregard other law enforcement agencies’ efforts and their need for fiscal support. Among those agencies that write motor vehicle violations are the county sheriff’s offices and county police agencies. Why were those agencies forgotten?

Tenth - The bills send all of the funds to the Attorney General for distribution and the AG will then have the authority to tell municipalities whether or not they need additional staffing. I really don’t think a sensible Attorney General would want to create the bureaucracy to do that.

Do not take this “Top Ten” list as being all that is wrong with the proposed bills. Do not conclude that I am against finding a solution to the rural law enforcement coverage issue. Do not think that I am anti-NJSP. Along with good law enforcement coverage comes first response to all public safety incidents and a higher level of life safety. Everyone deserves a high level of public safety and it is government’s highest obligation to provide it.

As with many other officials, I have made my thoughts known to the NJ State League of Municipalities, the NJ State Association of Chiefs of Police and the NJ State PBA. I have been invited to work with the League’s Legislative Committee to find a workable and fair solution to the issue. We do not need these proposed “Abbott funding for law enforcement” bills as written.

There is merit in the other surcharges proposed in the bills for autism, spinal injury research, DNA labs and police vests. Those issues should be separated out so they can be properly supported.

Eskil S. Danielson, MA CEM, Mayor

NOTE: Mayor Danielson retired after a 27 year career in law enforcement, 23 years as Byram Township Chief of Police. Before that, he managed and taught in the law enforcement program at County College of Morris. He managed the NorthSTAR Air Medical Program for five years and is now Emergency Management Director for Sussex County. He has been mayor of Byram Township since 2002. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and holds a BA in government/public administration from Lehigh and MAs from John Jay/CUNY and UVA.

Byram Township Memorial Day Ceremony

Byram Township Memorial Day Ceremony