CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Summer police help is on the way to 13 New Jersey towns as the Cape May County Police Academy on Wednesday afternoon graduated its largest ever class of special law enforcement officers.
The 107 graduates, known as Class II officers, will be heading mostly to shore towns for seasonal work from which they hope to get hired full-time. Atlantic City’s situation is a bit different. They plan to keep the 20 Class II officers year-round.
“I’m looking forward to getting these Class IIs on the street. That will free up the veteran officers to go into the neighborhoods. They’ll have a few days of agency training and be out on the street by July 4,” said Police Chief Ernest Jubilee, who attended the ceremony.
A summer mainstay in most shore towns, Jubliee said Atlantic City had not used seasonal officers since the 1970s, and back then there was much less training for the officers, who used to be referred to in a somewhat derogatory way as “rent-a-cops.”
Jubilee said the state Police Training Commission has created much tougher standards since then. They graduates went though training for 10 hours a day, six days a week for more than eight weeks.
“We’re one of the few academies that offer a Class II program and we get them from all over the state. Their training is the best they’ll get anywhere,” said Cape May County Sheriff Gary Schaffer, who directed the academy for 10 years before becoming sheriff.
To attend the academy, the officers have to be employed already. But most only have a guaranteed job for the summer, during which by law they can work as many as 48 hours per week. The law also allows officers to continue working 20 hours per week after the season, and Atlantic City will take advantage of this.
The officers work on an hourly basis, meaning they don’t get taxpayer-funded benefits, as salaried officers do. They also do not have police powers outside of their hours or the town, and cannot take their weapons home with them.
The Atlantic City Class II officers will be paid $15 an hour, slightly more than half of the starting salary of a city patrol officer, who starts out at an hourly salary of $29.31. That typical patrol officer salary does not include education, overtime and special training stipends, or benefits.
The cheaper price will help the city’s bottom line, though that is not Jubilee’s concern.
“From my perspective, it’s extra help. The fact we get them at a cheaper price was more the administration’s concern. Without this program we wouldn’t have the extra officers. We depend on the Cape May County Police Academy a lot,” Jubilee said.
Schaffer said Cape May County’s academy trains the third most recruits of police academies in the state. This includes Class I officers who do not carry guns but handle traffic details, local ordinance violations, and petty and disorderly complaints. The Class II officers carry guns and have full police powers while on duty.
“They have no powers when off duty. They turn their guns in and become civilians,” Schaffer said.
The academy also trains full-time police officers with the only residential program in the state.
The new Atlantic City officers now face some in-house training and will be issued identification and equipment. Split among two shifts, they are expected to add an average of six to seven officers to patrols, Public Safety Director Willie Glass said.
The graduation was held at the Middle Township Performing Arts Center and included a keynote speech by Schaffer, who declared the recruits “knowledgeable, physically fit and ethically sound.” He said they would risk their lives every day and warned them that America, and other police officers, will not tolerate abuses of police power.
“Be fair, be impartial, but above all, be human,” Schaffer said.
Freeholder Len Desiderio, who also is mayor of Sea Isle City, a town that hired nine of the graduates, told Jubilee he will find the Class II officers to be “of the same caliber” as full-time police and capable of handling any situation they face.
Then Desiderio spoke directly to the class:
“This is not just another summer job but the start of your career as a law enforcement officer. Listen to your oath of office. Do not disgrace that oath. You have become one of America’s finest,” he said.
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