ATLANTIC CITY - The final group of 60 officers the city laid off last year returned Friday.
Five men and one woman gathered around a Bible in the mayor's conference room to take the oath making them city police officers again.
"This is particularly special because this is the last group of laid-off officers, and that's very significant for the city," Deputy Chief Ernest Jubilee told those gathered, which included family members and a half-dozen fellow officers who turned out for support.
The addition brings the department close to the 330 officers both the police union and mayor have set as a goal in the city.
"It certainly is a pleasure to see you all assembled here today," Mayor Lorenzo Langford said.
He pointed out that many municipalities in the state had to lay off police and firefighters in order to meet restricted budgets. The city also laid off 30 firefighters last year, who were able to return under a federal grant.
"I think Atlantic City did a little better than most since we were able to bring them all back," he said. "I'm proud of that."
He gave credit to Jubilee and PBA President Dave Davidson Jr. as well as Christine Petersen, the former public safety director. Those returning have been out of work since June 2010.
"I'm just grateful to be back," said Officer Byron Hargis, who is the most senior of the returning officers and was asked to speak on the group's behalf. "It's been a long time."
Langford said he understood many had to "suffer the indignity of being laid off."
"I continue to apologize to you for that," he said.
Jubilee said the six returning officers would be busy over the next few days, which will include both classroom training and time at the firing range.
"I want to welcome you back and tell you that we missed you," he said. "We're going to all work together to make the city safe."
Violence has spiked recently. Numbers compiled by the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office show a nearly 35 percent increase in shooting incidents over last year.
"It's always better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them," Langford said of being able to have more officers on the street.
"Today's a happy day for everybody," Davidson said. "We're happy to be moving forward.
The city, the mayor, the business administrator kept their word. Now we're ready for the next step."
That step would be to re-promote 26 officers who lost their ranks as a result of last years cuts. They are each listed in this year's budget, but have yet to return to those higher ranks.
Langford said Friday that returning those laid off was his priority, but now he will look at the demoted officers.
"That's next," he said. "We will look at how and when we should be trying to restore those ranking officers to where they were."