TRENTON – The Senate Law and Public Safety Committee released by a 3-2 vote, along party lines, a bill that would enable county sheriff’s offices to appoint special law enforcement officers for court-related duties.
The bill, S2129, sponsored by Sen. Donald Norcross (D-5) of Camden, would also enable counties with regional police departments, like Bergen and Essex counties, to hire special officers to conduct functions done by municipal police departments.
The bill received the support of Camden County Sheriff Charles Billingham, who said it would help him and other Sheriff’s offices to provide the same level of court security without having to assign sheriff’s officers from other divisions whose primary function isn’t court security. Last year, he had to pay more than $300,000 in overtime to sheriff’s officers for the additional duties, he said.
“I think this is an absolute perfect fit,” Billingham said.
Dan Phelps of the Administrative Office of the Courts supported the bill, saying it gives Sheriff’s officers another resource to “hire for limited purposes.”
There wouldn’t be an increase in the overall number of people currently assigned to courtroom security, per se. However, the ability to hire the special officers would enable officers who work in such divisions dealing with cases involving fugitives, K-9 and child support to be fully devoted to it and avoid “fatigue” because of overtime.
Another opponent of the bill, Rob Nixon, director of Governmental Affairs, said he fears the special officers could be misused, and do functions that would normally be done by municipal police officers.
One committee member, Sen. “Kip” Bateman (R-16) of Neshanic Station, expressed that very concern, saying that in his county, there seems to be an “excess” of sheriff’s officers.
“I do have a problem,” Bateman said about sheriff’s officers doing work that is supposed to be done by PBA officers, he said.
He and Sen. James Holzapfel, (R-10), Brick, were the only senators who voted no. Norcross, Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-14) of West Windsor, and Sen. Nicholas Sacco, (D-32), North Bergen, voted yes.
The counties would have to foot the money to pay for the special officers, according to the bill.
Billingham estimated that in Camden County, it would cost some $130,000, which would be a substantial savings from the amount of overtime he has paid to officers.