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Schools adding Class III officers to improve safety and save money

After a recent school shoot-ing, Pleasantville police Officer Tommy Carberry emailed the White House suggesting a program already in place in New Jersey: rehiring retired officers to work exclusively in schools.

“This works all the way around, for the city, the school and the police de-partment,” Carberry said.

Deadly mass shootings have put into focus school safety initiatives across the country. Many ideas have been floated, from arming teachers to armed security guards to ways to secure building entryways.

As New Jersey’s Class III officer statute enters its second year, more school districts are signing on to the program, which local police think will eventually become a national standard.

“I think New Jersey was ahead of the curve on this one,” said Ray Cox, one of three Class III officers in the Pleasantville School District, along with Carberry and Louie Ruiz, a former chief.

Most recently, the Egg Harbor Township School District approved a shared-services agreement with the municipality at its June meeting for a Class III officer. According to Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough, Township Committee has sent back the agreement with changes and it awaits approval.

McCullough said he supports the idea.

“We’ve been working on it for quite some time, and we’re really pleased that the school board has made a decision to utilize our department. I think it’s a wise thing,” he said.

Cox, a former captain in the Brigantine Police Department, where he worked for 28 years, said Class III officers are doing the same job as private school security and then some. Between the three of them, the Class III officers at Pleasantville High School have almost 100 years of policing experience.

The Class III program was initiated through legislation signed into law in late 2016 by then-Gov. Chris Christie and allows retired police officers to work in schools while still being employed by the department.

The officers are not eligible for pension or health benefits, and their salaries are much lower than standard officers, said Chief Sean Riggin of the Pleasantville Police Department, which was one of the first in the state to hire Class IIIs.

“The most you’re going to spend for a full-time Class III officer is $40,000,” Riggin said. “It’s a much easier lift itself to the city.”

Riggin said Class III officers can make arrests, investigate crimes and carry a weapon, creating a safer environment for staff and students.

“Our high school gets a bad rap, and people think there’s a lot more going on there than there actually is, but there are incidences of fights and drugs,” Riggin said.

He said sending an officer to the high school would take an officer off the street, “and the responding officer has no idea the context and nuance of working in an educational setting, which is entirely different than what a police officer normally does.”

Riggin said the students get used to the officers, and the officers come to know the students.

“They’re only ever dealing with our three officers,” he said.

Like Pleasantville, Mainland Regional High School quickly took advantage of the new law and hired one Class III officer last year, Superintendent Mark Marrone said.

“Of course it’s safety and security, but one of the things we wanted to look at is how do we build better relationships between our students and law enforcement,” Marrone said.

Due to the success of the first year, Mainland is adding a second Class III officer for next year to cover afterschool activities. Marrone said Officer Belford Rivera is retired from the Hamilton Township Police Department and currently employed by the Linwood Police Department. He said Rivera mentored and assisted the students throughout the year.

“He’s become a fixture in the building,” Marrone said. “When I ask students about him, you hear, ‘He’s here to keep us safe.’ It’s not this negative connotation.”

Marrone said Rivera also assists in emergency and crisis planning. The Class III officer is in addition to the unarmed security the district maintains.

“It’s nice to know that we’ve cut down on the response time, that our officer can respond within minutes if not seconds, depending on where the incident is in the school,” Marrone said. “It’s nice to know that the officer is dedicated to our students, so his primary focus all day is the students.”

U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmers act as paramedics in the water

Clint Johnson’s first ride in a helicopter was right before finishing school to become a rescue swimmer. But it wasn’t just a ride for fun — it ended with a 20-foot jump into the ocean.

The 27-year-old southern California native, who has been qualified as a rescue swimmer for nine months, said he wasn’t scared of the jump because of the rigorous training he went through.

“It’s something for anyone who wants to test their abilities mentally and physically,” he said, adding rescue swimmer school is extremely hard.

Of the approximately 50,000 members of the Coast Guard across the U.S., there are only 400 aviation survival technicians, or rescue swimmers, the men and women tasked with saving people during emergencies on the water, Chief Brad Fitzpatrick said, one reason being the intense mental and physical training swimmers have to go through in order to work.

US Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer

Although each class, taught out of Elizabeth City, North Carolina, has 24 seats, it’s tough to fill them, Fitzpatrick said, and even tougher to get them graduated.

Sam Legrand, 27, of Denver, has been qualified as a rescue simmer since September. He said that of his class of 20 students, only four graduated with him. He described the training as intense.

But the rigorous training is so swimmers can deal with all types of conditions, from rough surf to hurricane-force winds, and still get the job done. And that job isn’t just getting a victim to safety; it’s being an emergency medical technician, or EMT, too.

Fitzpatrick compared the job to being a paramedic in an ambulance, but being a swimmer in a helicopter. It’s all summed up in their motto — “So others may live.”

“The job itself gives a lot of meaning and purpose,” Legrand said. “The reason you train so hard is to help people in distress.”

Legrand was flying in a helicopter from Air Station Atlantic City, searching for a sunken boat June 8, when the crew received a call about a man who had chest pains on his boat about 70 miles southeast of the resort.

The crew was diverted to airlift the 64-year-old man, who also had a weak pulse, but they were getting low on fuel.

Legrand called it approaching “bingo” — the point the helicopter’s computer calculated the crew would have just enough fuel to get back to the station safely.

“We had to execute a somewhat dangerous hoist very quickly,” he said, adding they got the man to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Campus, for treatment.

Situations like the medevac can be high-stress, he said, but worth it.

“I love it,” he said. “It’s a really worthwhile job because of the mission, and it’s also a cool job and fun.”

For Johnson, who swam at the University of Tennessee, and Legrand, who swam competitively in high school, a career in the water made perfect sense.

“I wanted to continue my athleticism in some way,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t think of any other job where you get to train and keep in physical condition and get paid to do it.”

Even after school, they train as a part of their job, about two hours or more every day.

The occupation draws swimmers, lifeguards, surfers and other athletes.

“I think it’s a very common thing where they have this calling, where they want to use their skills, whether it’s swimming or surfing, and use it for a greater good,” Legrand said.

State billed more than $5 million for Atlantic City recovery

ATLANTIC CITY — The law office of the former state designee billed more than $5.1 million since 2016 for legal services related to the stabilization and recovery of the resort.

According to billing invoices obtained through an Open Public Records Act request, the law firm of Chiesa, Shaninian & Giantomasi PC has been paid $4,471,770 through July 3 for legal services concerning Atlantic City. The firm still has $645,603 in pending invoices.

In November 2016, the state Local Finance Board voted to take major decision-making powers away from city officials and grant them to Local Government Services Director Timothy Cunningham. Jeffrey Chiesa, a former U.S. senator and state attorney general, was named designee to run the city’s finances.

According to the firm’s retention agreement, Chiesa was authorized to bill $400 per hour, while partners at the firm could bill $350 per hour, associates $240 per hour and paralegals $90 per hour for their work.

City Council President Marty Small Sr., who was among the most outspoken critics of the state takeover, said he had a “positive, professional working relationship” with Chiesa. Small said $5 million is a “lot of money for anything” but added Atlantic City has benefited, citing 2017’s municipal tax decrease and this year’s flat tax as examples.

“As I said many times, (Chiesa) made decisions I disagreed with, especially when it came to issues of public safety, but at the same time Atlantic City is in a better place fiscally because of some of those decisions,” Small said Wednesday.

Chiesa, a close ally of then-Gov. Chris Christie, was removed from his role as the Local Government Service director’s designee by Gov. Phil Murphy in April. In a statement announcing the move, the Murphy administration said Chiesa’s firm would still handle certain litigation matters.

In February, Murphy named Jim Johnson, a former U.S. Treasury undersecretary and 2017 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, as special counsel to review the future of the state’s involvement in Atlantic City. Johnson, who is being paid $1 per year, will issue a report as part of the administration’s “review and recommendation process” that includes reverting government functions back to the Department of Community Affairs.

Since the takeover, Chiesa and state officials reduced pay for the city’s police officers and firefighters and settled tax appeals with several of the resort’s casinos, including a $72 million settlement with Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, which Christie said saved the city $93 million.

To date, the firm has billed the state $831,868 for services related to tax appeals and payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT. Legal work related to a lawsuit brought by the International Association of Firefighters against the city has resulted in $762,846 in bills. The firm also billed $191,068 for services related to a suit brought by the Atlantic City PBA Local 24 against Christie.

Edward Lea  

CHIESA Jeffrey Chiesa, a close ally of then-Gov. Chris Christie, was removed from his role as the Local Government Service director’s designee by Gov. Phil Murphy in April. In a statement announcing the move, the Murphy administration said Chiesa’s firm would still handle certain litigation matters.

West Wildwood mayor told cops to lay off political allies, lawsuit states

WEST WILDWOOD — A former Class II officer in the borough claims in a lawsuit he was fired from his job for writing tickets to political allies of Mayor Christopher Fox and he was directed to target residents who may not vote for the mayor in future elections.

Jeremy Mawhinney, of Egg Harbor City, was hired by the West Wildwood Police Department as a Class II officer in June 2016 and fired in October 2017 after he was told several times by his sergeant, James Dodd, and Chief Jackie Ferentz not to write tickets to Fox’s allies, regardless of whether they were breaking the law, according to the lawsuit.

Business Administrator Christopher Ridings said Tuesday the borough does not comment on pending litigation. Fox did not return a request for comment.

The lawsuit is the second the borough has grappled with over the past two years.

Last year, a Cape May County jury awarded Ferentz about $1.7 million in her whistleblower suit against the borough and its former mayor, Herbert Frederick, that has led to tax increases for the 600 residents.

In that lawsuit, Ferentz, whose annual salary is $101,000, claimed Frederick interfered with police business during his time as mayor.

Frederick was dropped from the lawsuit before Ferentz was awarded the money. 

This lawsuit accuses Fox, the current mayor, of also meddling in police affairs.

Fox and Ferentz live together, but have denied there is a romantic relationship, according to previous press reports.

Mawhinney also says in his lawsuit Fox personally intervened in numerous cases to have criminal charges against his allies dropped and that he was directed to write tickets and summonses against residents of three homes on West Glenwood Avenue and West Poplar Avenue, according to the suit.

On June 26, 2016, Mawhinney alleges, he responded to a residence on Magnolia Avenue for a noise complaint and alleged use of marijuana. Upon arriving, Mawhinney and Dodd, who also responded, were threatened by one of the home’s occupants, saying he was going to call the mayor and they would be fired if they arrested him, the lawsuit states.

Both officers arrested the man and found marijuana, which was taken to the Police Department as evidence, according to the lawsuit. Once at the police station, the officers there received a phone call from Ferentz saying the mayor was demanding the marijuana be disposed of and the defendant be released on a noise complaint he would have dismissed in court.

“The mayor further indicated that (Mawhinney) and the other officers were working in a small town where they need the residents to politically back (him) … for the next election,” the lawsuit states.

Mawhinney says Dodd then told him he was going to flush the marijuana down the toilet and release the defendant, who was not named in the lawsuit.

In July 2016, Mawhinney says, he was told by both Dodd and Ferentz there were only three houses in the whole community that officers should target and continually write summonses against, in hopes it would run the occupants out of town because the mayor “did not want them in his town as they did not support (him),” according to the lawsuit.

Mawhinney says this conduct continued on several occasions, which included him having his ticket book taken away, until he was fired in October 2017.

The lawsuit also says the mayor held a meeting Sept. 6, 2017, with the Police Department telling officers to only write tickets against the residents of the three specific houses and not against his allies.

“The mayor indicated that he did not care if his political supporters were doing 90 mph down Glenwood Avenue, a 25 mph zone, and that they were to be left alone,” the lawsuit states.

In October, Mawhinney says, he was fired by Ferentz, who told him she likes him but had to fire him because of pressure at home from the mayor, according to the lawsuit.

Mawhinney’s lawuit seeks an undetermined monetary amount in damages plus interest, attorney fees and costs of the suit. He is represented by Northfield attorney David Castellani.