ATLANTIC CITY - There is one case laid-off city police would like to solve: How will the tourism district affect their return to duty?
Sixty officers were cut from the Atlantic City Police Department in the past six months, with 17 returning Dec. 1, under a concession agreement between their union and the city.
Now, news that the current incarnation of the proposed tourism district bill would have city police — and not State Police — handling daily operations in the area has given them some hope they will be part of that effort.
“They’re still not saying it’s going to be us,” said Troy Maven Sr., who has been out of work since the first round of layoffs in June.
Clean, safe streets was the rally cry of Gov. Chris Christie when he first announced his plans for the city July 21. But questions remain about who would police that area — and whether there will be additional funding to increase the city’s current 300-member police ranks.
“Given the realities of the economy, the mere creation of the tourist district does not mean all of a sudden the city has all this money to hire more police,” said state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, a sponsor of the bill. “I wish I could guarantee that all — or even most of — the laid-off cops will be brought back, but it‘s not a guarantee I can make. I hope some will get hired back right away and others would get hired back gradually.”
But, he added: “I think it would be a while, frankly.”
In the meantime, current and laid-off city police sit back and watch as legislators debate what will happen.
“They ask me, ‘Yo, Chief, you know what’s going on with the tourism district?’” said Deputy Chief Ernest Jubilee, noting he has not been given any insight into the plans. “There have been four versions so far, and it’s continuing to change. When the final bill is done and voted on, we’ll do whatever we need to do.“
PBA President Dave Davidson Jr. said police officers need to be involved in the solution.
“You make all these sweeping policies that affect the boots on the street, the rank and file, but you don’t involve them in these decisions,” Davidson said.
Instead, said Maven, “we’re on the outside looking in.”
Whelan seemed to agree that the decision on how the area is policed should go to the department and not be mandated by the bill.
“I think that’s something that’s left to the police professionals,” he said.
A group that gathered at PBA headquarters in Chelsea Heights this week said that is where they want to be — on the streets of Atlantic City. Doing “real police work.” They still use “we” when talking about the department and its future.
“We have a different camaraderie than any other police,” said Joe Caprio, 29, who was laid off in September. “If I can’t work in Atlantic City and be a cop, I don’t want to be a cop.”
Under the current city agreement, laid-off officers must wait for retirements or other vacancies in order to return to the department.
“We’re banking on the state bringing us in on this tourism district,” Caprio said. “It’s all up in the air right now.”
Bryant Mitchell, 23, was also part of the first 20 to be laid off. “I’m keeping my hopes up that they’ll bring us back early next year,” he said.
Under the newest version of the bill, state troopers would not police the tourism district. But Mitchell believes there may be a need for even more police than the ones who were laid off.
Al Herbert, 23, said it was his dream growing up in Atlantic City to police his hometown. But after six months without a job, that dream may be reaching its end.
“It’s a competitive job market,” he said. “It’s time for me to improve my resume and see what else is out there.”
Some laid-off officers have already moved on. One officer recently joined the Ventnor Police Department. Another is a sheriff’s officer.
But other jobs aren’t easy to come by. A lot of departments are cutting back. And those that are hiring have requirements that are difficult to meet.
Maven was turned down by the state park police because he’s not currently a law-enforcement employee. Herbert left college to join the academy, and now is finding many larger departments — such as New York — require a college degree.
Nick Berardis, 24, faces a unique challenge. He received his layoff notice a week shy of his police academy graduation.
“They look for experience,” he said. “I don’t have any street time.”
Berardis, who moved to Atlantic City five years ago to become a police officer, also feels like he owes the town something. The taxpayers footed the bill for his education, but then that education was never used.
“I want to hold out hope, but I’ve got bills to pay, you know?” he asked.
The others, most with three years on the force, were at the time when they thought their jobs were secure.
“I bought a house,” said Caprio, who lives in Margate. “I thought I was safe.”
Maven is now trying to save his Egg Harbor Township home from foreclosure. He credits the help of his and his wife’s parents with being able to have a Christmas for his 2-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter.
Davidson, meanwhile, just wants someone representing the department sitting at the table.
“We’d still like to be a part and know what’s going on,” he said. “We have a right to know what our fate is.”
Contact Lynda Cohen: