It’s starting to happen. The concept of government cutbacks and the reality of actually seeing government services curtailed or eliminated is a very different story. Everyone says they want government to spend less, but what they don’t understand is that spending less sometimes means we get less of what we care about.
Consider the fact that in the city of Newark, just this week, 167 cops just got layoff notices. In Camden, a huge chunk of the police force is on the chopping block. In the city of Trenton, there is a massive budget gap and you can guarantee that not only police, but firefighters are going to be on the line. Yet, in Atlantic City where 60 officers were let go in two rounds of recent layoffs, just this week 17 officers were sworn back in under an arrangement where each of the city’s 300 officers will give back $410.
Let’s get back to Newark, the city where I was born and raised and in the last few years, has experienced a resurgence of the downtown area. The New Jersey Devils play at Prudential Center, and the Nets play there as well. In the last two weeks, I’ve seen two concerts there including Andrea Bocelli this weekend. Imagine that, Bocelli in Newark. Beyond that, NJPAC is thriving and the commercial real estate market is strong. But all of this downtown economic activity, be it in Newark, Atlantic City, Camden, Trenton or any other New Jersey urban center, is predicated on public safety.
For example, while the crime rate in Newark had stabilized over the past few years, recently the number of incidents of violent crime has spiked. If that continues, the economic growth in Newark will be seriously threatened. In government, it all comes down to tough choices and priorities. Mayor Cory Booker approached the Fraternal Order of Police and asked for $9.5 million in concessions, which included $3.7 million in salary deferrals, a $2 million cap on overtime and five unpaid work days that would be recouped as time off. Further, Booker’s proposal also called for those 167 officers facing layoffs to forego $2.7 million in stress pay, uniform allowance, raises and overtime. Mayor Booker said that by doing this, the city would save enough money to avert layoffs. The FOP said absolutely not, under no circumstances. FOP president Derrick Hatcher pointed to previous contract negotiations saying the mayor promised not to lay off any police officers. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, I wasn’t there. But I do know this. Times are a changing. There is not as much money today as there was just a couple of years ago, and things are getting worse.
The Newark police union had a choice. Compromise and have its members give up a few pay days and make some concessions in order to save the jobs of their brothers and sisters in blue, but they opted to hold the line. They opted not to compromise. Their argument, archaic at best, is that if they give in on this, the mayor and other municipal officials will expect the police union leadership to be flexible on other issues regarding wages and benefits. Duh. That’s right. Because the status quo is never an option, particularly when things are getting worse.
So while the police union leadership can pound its chest in Newark or any other municipality where they say no way, no how, no give backs—no compromise, no furloughs, no nothing—they can be proud of themselves while their fellow police officers are now out on the street, not with a gun and a badge but rather looking for a job. That’s a hell of a holiday present, don’t you think? At least in Atlantic City, the cops there seem to get it, which is why certain cops have a job today and are not on the unemployment line.
Like I said, the status quo is never an option. Someone ought to tell that to the police union leadership in Newark in a hurry before more cops lose their jobs.