GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — As the township’s population continues to climb, the number of police officers on the job to patrol more than 100 square miles continues to dwindle. From 74 police officers in 2008, ranks are down to 48.
Among Atlantic County police departments, Galloway Township has the fewest officers per 1,000 residents.
The decline began in 2009, when the township slashed more than $600,000 from the police budget and did not fill empty positions created by retirements and promotions. The $600,000 savings represented two laid-off officers, thousands of dollars in police officer furloughs and a blackout on overtime compensation.
Attrition has become a popular way for municipalities facing a poor financial climate to balance a budget, said Raymond Hayducka, president of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police and South Brunswick police chief.
In December, the township rescinded an order to lay off five police officers when five senior officers announced their retirements. The potential layoffs were to be another cost-saving measure to close an expected $1 million budget shortfall.
Hayducka said Galloway Chief Pat Moran is doing well under trying circumstances.
“I have to give him credit. ... But at a certain point, something will have to give, and the township is going to have to hire more officers,” Hayducka said.
The Police Department has the task of serving and protecting 37,349 people. The township’s average number of police officers per 1,000 residents remains the lowest in the county, Moran said. In the 2008 Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report, the township had two officers per 1,000 residents, the fewest per 1,000 in the county. In 2011, that number fell to 1.6 officers per 1,000 residents.
“We’ve had concessions every year since I have been chief. The amount of work that’s been done with the reduction in staff is actually an increased amount of work. We are a 24/7 operation,” Moran said.
The concessions negotiated by the police union included accelerated health care contributions, an increase by five to 15 steps in the pay-raise process and compensatory time given instead of overtime.
The population has continued to climb and so has the calls for service — 31,343 in 2008 and 39,602 in 2012, Moran said. Property checks have doubled, according to Moran.
Arrests have stayed steady, with 1,524 in 2008 and 1,528 in 2012, he said. Motor vehicle stops have increased about 47 percent since 2010, with 7,290 in 2010 and 10,740 in 2012, Moran said.
“One thing about our administration, including myself, if something happens, our department empties out, and we’re all out there. There’s no shortage of police work here, and we are all cops first,” Moran said.
A municipality’s police department should be the last area that is downsized when a town is bound by budget constraints, said Jerry Hauselet, the president of the board of trustees of the Four Seasons retirement community in the township’s Smithville section.
“I find myself more observant in my neighborhood while I’m driving around. As a resident, I’ve learned to be more alert and aware because there are less people doing that for me,” Hauselet said.
Residents of Four Seasons’ 1,215 homes meet regularly with local police, specifically Moran, to stay informed about public safety in the township, said Hauselet, who’s lived in the township for the last eight years.
Crime happens when police officers aren’t around, Hauselet said.
“I and we are extremely concerned here in Four Seasons. Our residents and board have always supported our police department. It is an issue of how far can you cut back before it’s dangerous,” said Hauselet.
Residents have confidence in the police, who are now doing more with less and forced to prioritize calls for service, he said. But any time the opportunity to provide safety is reduced, there is the potential for people to be less safe, he said.
“I’m very worried that there comes a time that you are very close to that margin of public safety or not. I don’t know that we’re there yet, but reducing the number of people who protect us is usually not a good idea,” he said.
Egg Harbor Township police Detective Ray Theriault, who also serves as the president of PBA Mainland Local 77, said with declining numbers in manpower he doesn’t believe public safety is the priority it used to be. This trend affects officer morale, Theriault said.
“I tell my officers that we’re professionals, we’re paid like professionals, and good, bad or indifferent this is something that we have to deal with,” he said.
Although Egg Harbor Township recently hired police officers, he said, he doesn’t see that happening any time soon in Galloway because of continued budgetary problems.
“They’re one of the designated growth zones, and they are going to do nothing but grow. At a certain point, it’s going to get to the point that you can’t do any more with what you have,” he said.
Contact Donna Weaver:
Follow Donna Weaver on Twitter @DonnaKWeaver