Judiciary approves Fuentes for reappointment to lead state police

The Senate Judiciary approved the nomination Tuesday of Col. Joseph R. Fuentes for reappointment as superintendent of the N.J. State Police after he was questioned about, among other things, the handling of a 2009 traffic accident involving an off-duty undercover officer.

Fuentes was questioned regarding a 2009 accident on Rt. 295 involving a detective sergeant, William Billingham, an undercover trooper who gave false information about his identity, but Fuentes said he would not discuss specifics because it remains a matter of  ongoing investigations.

Billingham was off-duty at the time in an unmarked car. His fictitious undercover information was sent to the insurance company of the other person involved in the accident, according to published reports.

He was not charged until two years after the incident, and prosecutors now allege alcohol was involved in the matter. Fuentes told the committee that to the best of his knowledge, no blood alcohol level was established for Billingham at the time of the incident.

In the wake of that incident, Fuentes said the state police have instituted stricter policies regarding such investigations.

On other issues, Sens. Nicholas Scutari and Christopher Bateman raised issues regarding the time-consuming bureaucracy of the state police. Scutari said in one case a court order was needed to get state police to turn a videotape over to municipal court.

Fuentes said they are working with judges and have made progress on this problem.

Fuentes also raised concerns about staffing, with approximately 800 officers reaching 25 years of service – and possibly retiring – between now and March 2014.

“Whether this will constitute the new norm remains to be seen but it is a national issue that must be confronted,” he told the committee.

The state police has a recruitment class of about 150 in August, and Fuentes told the committee the state police will be examining economies of scale as it moves forward.

Fuentes touted reforms instituted in the wake of the consent decree regarding traffic stops, internal affairs, and other areas.

He praised their Camden/Irvington initiative, which in 2010 led to more than 1,000 arrests on a variety of charges, including murder, drugs, and others. Judiciary approves Fuentes for reappointment to lead state police