PLEASANTVILLE— Eight months after their chief retired and a captain was involved in an internal investigation, the Police Department is finally moving past those issues.
Three officers were promoted Monday evening at a City Hall meeting, and the mayor formally recognized the state and national accreditation of the department.
“It’s just all falling into place, finally” said Capt. Rocky Melendez. After all the changes and transitions, “we are finally able to breathe.”
Melendez helped lead the accreditation project, after being assigned by former police Chief Duane Comeaux.
But after Comeaux’s retirement, the department was faced with simultaneous problems. An acting chief was named until the official confirmation could take place, which depended on procedures outlined by the state, and a captain was suspended as part of an internal investigation, Melendez said.
“It was a big transitional phase,” he said. “It’s a big change, like when a company gets a new CEO.”
Chief Jose Ruiz said the internal changes did not affect the focus of the department, and they still knew that their “first responsibility is to the community.”
The internal investigation involving the captain is still ongoing.
"With respect to ranks, there is litigation pending and it should be resolved in the near future,” Ruiz said of the matter. “The outcome will require adjustment."
Melendez said dealing with the internal changes did slow down the accreditation process, but it all started coming together in December.
Ruiz was officially confirmed at the end of 2012, at the same time the department was being recommended for accreditation.
The accreditation has helped reduce the liability of the department by enforcing uniform procedures and record-keeping practices, Melendez said.
It is also helping the department seek funding from different sources, some to help with hiring more officers and others to work with Atlantic City on reducing criminal activity that is common between the two towns, Ruiz said.
“We are still below where we should be,” Ruiz said about the number of staff. “But we are getting there. Not as fast as we would like, but we are getting there.”
The department is at its lowest staffing levels in recent history, Melendez said.
There are currenly 47 officers, about 20 less than the department had several years ago.
Both Ruiz and Melendez said that despite a tight budget, Mayor Jesse Tweedle has given priority to public safety and understands the importance of it to the community.
And the news of the accreditation being confirmed is “very rewarding,” Ruiz said.
“What the future holds in terms of organizational makeup of department is in the chief’s hand,” Melendez said.
The promotions in the department include Capt. Sean Riggin, Lt. James Williams and Sgt. Christopher Taggart.