ATLANTIC CITY — Detectives took about 40 minutes to respond to an armed robbery at a Boardwalk tourist attraction Tuesday night, as the only two detectives on duty were investigating shots fired at Stanley Holmes Village.
Deputy Police Chief Ernest Jubilee stressed Wednesday that police were on the scene within two minutes of the 5:47 p.m. call that a man had threatened a cashier at the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum and took off with an undetermined amount of cash. But when those officers called investigators trained to solve such crimes, they were told that the shooting scene had to be cleared first.
The detectives arrived Ripley’s at about 6:30 p.m.
Since the department lost 20 officers to layoffs in June and another 40 on Sept. 30, Jubilee has said he had to put the focus — and most of his department’s manpower — on the street. Answering 911 calls, as opposed to solving cases, has become the priority.
Tuesday night was an example of that, he said.
“That’s what I’ve been saying all along,” Jubilee said. “We’ve pushed everyone out on the street. But we had to take them from investigative units.”
On Tuesday night, it meant only two detectives working, and they were already tied up at Stanley Holmes Village — investigating the third shooting incident in that area within 36 hours.
That is not unusual these days, he said, though sometimes there are three detectives. Right now, vacations, sick leave and in-service training put an additional burden on the department.
“We are short-staffed,” Jubilee said.
Gov. Chris Christie has talked about bringing in additional State Police to guard the city as part of his plan to make Atlantic City “clean and safe.”
But PBA President David Davidson said he believes too many outside entities are trying to get a piece of the city.
“Atlantic City already has a police department,” he said Wednesday. “If we properly manage it, we won’t run into situations where you have to wait 45 minutes for a detective to answer a call.”
The deputy chief — who has overseen day-to-day operations of the department since the city eliminated the chief’s position in favor of a public safety director — hopes there will be some relief soon.
The police union and the city have been working on a deal that would bring 15 of the laid-off officers back with a target date of Dec. 1, bringing the ranks back to 300. Currently, there are 285 officers.
Last month, the PBA members voted overwhelmingly in favor of an estimated half-million dollars in concessions to bring back the 60 officers. Mayor Lorenzo Langford then countered that with an offer that would bring back the 15 this year. Those details have not been released, but since that time, the union and city have gone back and forth over wording for a memorandum of agreement that should have 15 back for the final month of the year.
“It’s moving along,” Davidson said. “It’s not going, obviously, as quickly as it could. Obviously, for me, it’s not going as quickly as it could.”
But, he did credit the city administration with allowing the union’s attorney to change some of the wording in the memo and said everyone is trying.
“I think that’s a step in the right direction,” Davidson said.
Langford could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
In the past year, about 90 officers have been lost between layoffs and openings from retirements that have not been filled, Davidson estimated.
“We’re putting more pressure on the plainclothes units and it’s showing,” he said. “We’re trying to do our part to get some of these 60 back.”
Davidson said he hoped to have a final memo to his members within three days, and then they would vote on the new concessions. Under the deal, those concessions would pay for the salaries of those who come back.
“It’s unfortunate, but we’re going to do what we have to do,” Davidson said.
Jubilee, who is not involved in the negotiations, was glad to hear negotiations are on track.
“I’m anxious to see some movement on this,” he said.
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