Toms River Residents Express Frustration over Police Shortages in Township
By Phil Stilton
Toms River–Joe Gomulka, of Toms River, a victim of a recent robbery asked the Toms River Township Committee at the September 9th, 2012 meeting, “What are you doing about our police situation?”
Gomulka says when his home was broken into, one officer showed up. He also claimed a neighbor who had a vehicle broken into was told the police department was too busy to respond. He questioned the committee about what their plan is going forward for the police department to address vacancies due to retirement and address response times from what he felt seemed like an overworked department.
“I know that the police department is under a lot of stress and that’s basically my focus. What are doing for the police department in this town?” he asked the committee. “School opens tomorrow…I believe you have dropped the school security officer at Toms River South…I hear you have cut back the detectives.”
“This is really about where are we going with the police department, and I have a deep deep respect for them. Years ago if I made a call, I had guys showing up in a heartbeat. It seems like they’re just overburdened,” Gomulka said. ”The day that my house was robbed, one of your officers spent ten minutes waiting for backup while he fought somebody at the Red Roof Inn…please help us.”
Township Council President Mo Hill said the township is aware of the situation and they intend to back fill positions open due to retirement.
Earlier this year, the Toms River Police Department announced it would be accepting applications for the position of Probationary Police Officer between May 1, 2012 and August 31, 2012.
A written exam for those who applied and qualified will be presented by the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police. It is scheduled for Saturday September 22, 2012. The highest scoring 150 candidates will be invited to participate in a physical task assessment and swimming test on October 27, 2012. Upon completion of the physical task assessment and swimming test the top 100 candidates will be interviewed and placed in rank order on a final candidate list. Applicants on this list will be eligible to proceed in the hiring process between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2015.
The retirement and absence of Toms River South School Resource Officer, Bill McKinnon was also of concern to Marianne Cipolletti, a school employee. McKinnon, a veteran of the police department since 1987, has been the SRO at Toms River South since 2001. He will be retiring this year.
“It sounds like a good plan to try to alternate somebody when there’s a free man, but we all know when there’s a free man around, that doesn’t happen too often,” she said. ”I believe there is a bigger gang presence in this side town…it’s a real comfort to walk up to the building and see the police car there every morning and see the police car when I go out to lunch…to know Officer McKinnon is there to help out. I hope somehow the money can be found to replace him,” she added.
Toms River Police Captain Steve Henry said that if staffing permits, an officer will be posted, but pointed out that if staffing is needed elsewhere that officer can be pulled for those calls. He noted Toms River South also has a safety officer who could fill in, in that scenario.
“We have been told they are hiring a school safety officer and usually school safety officers are retired Toms River police officers… South has the lowest number of calls and weapons in the schools,” Henry said. “The township committee never reduced anything, they’re trying to play catch up, we’re working hand in hand. It’s a situation where the state government caused a mass exodus.” Thirty-one officers have retired due to new state laws that made many public employees, including police to retire early to avoid future pension reforms that could have otherwise negatively affected their retirement.
“Obviously High School South is a little bit different geographically to the other high schools. They can leave the school, they can walk to lunch, it’s different,” said Toms River Police Officer. ”But communication, if they’re going to hire a school officer, we hope that they would have the same communication with the rest of the police department that officer McKinnon did.”
He also said that drug use is a contributing factor in burglaries in the township, stating that many of the burglaries are of homes and cars that are left unlocked and unattended.