The last 6 weeks or so in my neighborhood have been wonderful, aside from a few isolated incidents. The loudest local troublemaker was arrested, and someone, somewhere, put the smackdown order on the two major problem houses: a pack of dirtbags were evicted from an apartment across the street, and our local thugs had a pool installed behind their house, and they've been spending a lot of time in it — and keeping it respectable! — instead of all over the streets.
I have a very hard time believing that the universe conspired to make all of these neighborhood- and sanity-saving acts occur simultaneously. My bet is that the police were heavily involved, and for that reason, I'm loosing sleep at the thought that the new administration might lay off 142 cops*, which, I think, is roughly one-third of the department. I am deflated, and worried, and so very, very tired.
I never thought I'd say this, but it's also distressing that Mayor-elect Tony Mack will be letting go of Police Director Irv Bradley, as well. It's Mack's prerogative to clean house, but it seems to me that the police department has suffered needlessly under tumultuous leadership for too many years; Bradley was able to bring about some peace. Happy cops, in my opinion, do a better job for the community. That, along with some better policies, has brought about a tangible reduction in crime in the last two years. Former police director and mayor Doug Palmer crony, Joseph Santiago, had the "crime is down" mantra, but uttering it so many times, especially with no action to help it happen, did not make it so.
Bradley has been the target of a citizen-based lawsuit, due to residency issues (does/did he live in Rahway, or here?), and I do believe in residency. But I also believe in a working relationship with the police department, more than high philosophical issues like residency. I met Bradley in December, during a walk around Villa Park with police officials, and I was really impressed: he listened to our concerns. He really listened. And he doted on Matty, and that earns him bonus points in my book.
The other philosophical issue surrounding Bradley, is whether or not Trenton should have a civilian, mayor-appointed director of police, or if we should have a police chief. Bradley's predecessor, Santiago, was so unpopular that opinion (civilian, at least) has shifted back toward chief, it seems. Personally, I think the police department should decide. If they're happy with Bradley, and the city can afford him, he should stay. The clock is ticking, though, and my opinion probably doesn't even register with the powers-that-be, so I just want to express my thanks to Bradley. I thought we'd be getting more of the same Santiago nonsense when he took over in the fall of 2008, and I am deeply satisfied to have been so wrong. Mr. Bradley, thank you for a job well done, and all the best to you.
Back to the layoffs, because I'm kind of obsessing about them: Mack will be implementing Palmer's layoff plan, and that rubs me wrong because Palmer has wasted our tax money for too many years, with legal battles and an extravagant posse of security and assistants, and cars, and preferential treatment and bending rules, and who knows what else. In a perfect world, I'd like to see him pay the city back — at least for money wasted in the legal battles. I realize, too, that Palmer is full of experience and information about how to run the city, and it behooves Mack to listen. But it also behooves Mack to take a look at how other New Jersey cities, especially Newark, are dealing with the budget crisis because there's a very good chance that Palmer's insight is not so insightful. I hope every single intelligent money-saving option has been explored, because layoffs in the police department will be absolutely catastrophic to the community. I cannot bear the thought of what will happen in my neighborhood.
Instead of layoffs, I implore the new administration to insist on tougher enforcement of all city ordinances (as well as state and federal laws). During the campaign, Mack said he'd work to improve quality of life in this city. I hope he realizes more tickets issued to offenders of even the simplest infractions, like tinted automobile glass, mean more money for the city. More money means it's easier to keep police officers on the payroll, and improved services all around.
I was just about done with Trenton earlier this year, and our peaceful six weeks has restored some much needed hope and enthusiasm for me. I urge the new administration and the police unions to cooperate in order to keep every single police officer on the payroll. We need them.
* The Mack administration is also talking about laying off 78 firefighters, which is also a mistake. I am fortunate that we have not experienced a fire personally, or even one nearby. But wasn't there a fire every couple of days all winter long this year? How much worse will it be with 78 fewer firefighters? Much worse. That's how much.