New Jersey police union officials say the planned hiring of interim, Class II police officers by local towns such as Atlantic City, Vineland, Hammonton and Stafford Township could compromise the public and officers’ safety.

Municipal officials say the hirings will help control payroll and benefit costs.

In Atlantic City, the savings are undeniable: The incoming Class II officers will be paid $15 an hour, with no benefits or health care, meaning the city can hire 25 of them this spring with the $500,000 officials have set aside.

At that cost, Atlantic City could cover base salaries for just eight full-time officers. Resort police start at an hourly wage of $29.31, which works out to a base salary of $58,883 - not including education, overtime and special training stipends, nor benefits.

Union leaders contend that even with training, the part-time officers are being asked to take risks beyond their pay and responsiblities. The biggest risk is to their own health if they’re injured or hurt.

“I think towns are trying to save money and — especially because special officers are excluded from labor unions, they have no health insurance and there are no pension payments,” said Kevin Lyons, legal protection plan adviser for the New Jersey Patrolmen’s Benovelent Association.

Atlantic City Police Officer and PBA Local Delegate Keith Bennett said there is no spot for Class II officers in the PBA to receive union representation, and they will also not have a contract or benefits. They can’t carry their guns when they’re off duty. And if they are killed in the line of duty, their families would not receive death benefits. On that, unions and towns agree.

But Atlantic City, which has not used Class II officers previously, says officers will be trained to handle any risks and dangers.

“There’s a learning curve, and Atlantic City is very specific to that because we have a lot of challenges here. They’re not going into a sleepy shore town — we have all the big-city issues. But we’re confident,” police Capt. William Mazur said. “I don’t think they’re any less trained, their training is just condensed.”

Mazur said he is aware of those issues, but deferred comment to Mayor Lorenzo Langford.

“Class II officers are part-time employees. They are treated the same as all other part time employees, ... and are not entitled to benefits,” Langford said.

Across the region, hiring Class IIs is becoming more popular:

— Vineland in February swore-in five Class II officers in an admitted attempt to cut costs. Police Chief Timothy Codispoti said the city would like to hire 10 more. The city has $120,000 budgeted for the Class II officers, who will be paid an hourly salary of about $15, Codispoti said. A full-time officer would receive a starting salary of $39,000, he said.

“Our budget for overtime is over a half-million dollars just for supplementing the shifts. We intend to save money off of that and that’s where the savings is going to come from,” he said.

He said the city is not hiring Class IIs in place of full-time officers. Four potential full-time officers are completeing the police academy training and will join the department’s 145 sworn full-time officers upon graduation.

Safety risks and possible line-of-duty deaths to Class II officers does concern Codispoti, he said.

“Kevin Lyons brings up a good point. But where we’re using the Class IIs, they’re not on the front line. They’re in the station doing desk duty and things like fingerprinting. They can be in cars as ride-alongs but they’re not the lead officers. Every Class II that we have helps supplement the safety of the officers that are out there,” he said.

He said he is going to work to have the city establish an insurance policy for a death benefit Class II officers.

“I think it’s a valid point that he raises and I’m actually making a note to myself because I don’t think that’s something we should ignore,” he said.

— Stafford Township, near the resort community of Long Beach Island where five municipalities already use Class II officers during the summer, is considering hiring two Class IIs. If it does, it won’t be the first time Stafford has used special officers. The township department is down about 10 officers through attrition over the past several years, Stafford Township Administrator James Moran said.

Besides supplementing staffing, Moran said, hiring Class II officers is an effective screening candidates for future full-time openings.

Class II officers in Stafford Township would be paid between $10 and $15 an hour. The starting salary for a full-time police officer in the township is $35,000, Moran said.

— Hammonton Police Chief Robert Jones said his department, which has 30 officers, is down about four officers. The town recently hired two full-time police officers and one Class II officer. The two full-time police officers will join the Hammonton force with a salary of $46,580 and benefits. The Class II officer will be paid $15 an hour, which is not to exceed 32 hours per week, and receives no benefits, Jones said.

The statute that authorizes the use of Class IIs, also known as the “Special Law Enforcement Officers’ Act,” became effective in January 1986 and provides for special law enforcement officers “to temporarily or intermittently perform duties similar to those performed regularly by members of a police force of a local unit, or to provide assistance to a police force during unusual or emergency circumstances, or at individual times or during regular seasonal periods in resort municipalities.”

According to the statute, special law-enforcement officers may be appointed for terms not to exceed one year. Class IIs working in resort municipalities cannot exceed 48 hours of work per week during any seasonal period.

The statute also states that in communities other than resort municipalities, the number of Class II officers shall not be more than 25 percent of the total number of regular police officers.

Atlantic City is doing medical and psychological reviews of candidates for the 25 Class II positions. Officials plan to make their selections in time for the new hires to start the Cape May County Police Academy training session in late April, and hit the street in time for July 4 weekend, Mazur said.

The county’s condensed training program — eight weeks versus the typical 10 for full-time police officers — affords Atlantic City more manpower for its busiest time of year. That speedier training is essential for Atlantic City right now, Mazur said.

Although Cape May County towns such as Wildwood, Stone Harbor, Avalon and Ocean City have used Class II officers for years, Atlantic City never has before.

But during the past 18 months, new state laws have brought financial support — along with deadlines and other pressures — to Atlantic City in hopes of boosting the local economy. Officials have focused on improving safety and cleanliness, hoping to improve perception and encourage tourism.

“We in this city are on a strict time schedule to get ourselves together for the summer tourist season,” Mazur said.

Contact Emily Previti:

609-272-7221

Contact Donna Weaver:

609-226-9198

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