MERCER COUNTY EXECUTIVE AND FREEHOLDER BOARD REFUSE TO RESPOND TO PBA’S SAFETY CONCERNS FOR RESIDENTS
WOODBRIDGE –The following letter was sent to Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes and the entire Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders by New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Colligan. The letter was sent on Wednesday and, to date, has not been acknowledged.
An Open Letter from the NJ State PBA and PBA Local 167 To Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders and County Executive Brian Hughes
The New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association and PBA Local 167 represent 200 Mercer County Correctional Police Officers and their families who call upon Mercer County to abandon the unconstitutional and unsafe plan to transfer detainees 60 plus miles across the entire State of New Jersey to Hudson County. If implemented, that plan would be a debacle, imperiling public safety and violating the Constitution, a rarely achieved twofer. The recent Superior Court decision temporarily stopping Mercer County from transferring detainees to Hudson County should have been a wakeup call for the politicians in Mercer County who tried to push this unsafe and illegal plan.
The Court recognized that the 60 plus miles to be traveled by busloads of detainees going from Hudson County to Mercer County during rush hour would be dangerous and that the constitutional right of those detainees to a fair trial and to an attorney would be violated. It is not every day that the State PBA and the Public Defender’s Office stand together but we all know the Court got it right when it put the brakes on this illegitimate, unconstitutional, and unworkable plan.
Since receiving that decision Mercer County has taken no action to reconsider its position or reach out to the PBA. Even though the Court’s decision specifically cited to Mercer County’s refusal to engage with and answer questions of the PBA related to staffing, operations, and safety as supporting its decision, the same Mercer County officials continue to push ahead and ignore reality. NJ.com just quoted a Hunterdon County Freeholder openly stating that he would not have supported anything like what Mercer County proposed with Hudson because of the distance and “practical” problems. Yet, Mercer officials continue to maintain, without any support, that they can transfer hundreds of detainees more than 60 miles away to Hudson County, while respecting constitutional rights, ensuring public and officers’ safety, and saving money. That is simply impossible, and the Court’s decision exposes the fictions of Mercer County.
The PBA urges Mercer County to answer the PBA’s questions and address the issues identified below, and in the attached October 22, 2019 letter sent by NJ State PBA President Colligan before the Freeholders vote. We have listed critical questions below because Mercer County continues to refuse to answer them.
This is not an academic exercise; once Mercer County answers it will be even clearer that it cannot safely transport busloads of detainees across the many county lines between Mercer and Hudson Counties, that it cannot house some Mercer County detainees 60 or more miles away and others in Mercer, and expose the claims this deal will save Mercer County money as totally false. Any honest account will show, as the court held, that a detainee’s constitutional rights to counsel are interfered with in such a scheme, and that citizens of this state as well as the officers will potentially be exposed to highly unsafe conditions on a regular basis.
There is still time for Mercer County officials to reconsider and we urge them to do so. The PBA will work with them if they want a partner. If not, we will continue to show that this plan is unsafe, unconstitutional, and cannot move forward.
Questions Mercer County is not answering include:
How will it safely transport busloads of detainees on the NJ Turnpike for more than 60 miles during rush hour every day?
How it plans to transport detainees without the level of staffing that the NJ Department of Corrections requires for these types of mass movements of detainees?
Does it have any operations plan showing how it will guard and securely house the detainees who remain at the Mercer County Corrections Center and how many officers it will need each shift?
Why does it refuse to explain how its inadequate and incomprehensible “Staffing Plan” will actually work even after the PBA has shown it fails to list necessary posts and that there are not enough officers who will remain to safely handle required operations at the jail and during transports?
What will happen when there is a breakdown or traffic event during transportation between Hudson and Mercer to ensure that public safety is not threatened?
How will there be any taxpayer savings when the claimed savings are based upon staffing of 98 officers to cover the same number of posts, an overtime cost of $0 after an agreement, fringe benefits undercounted by over $1.5 million and phantom maintenance savings?
These are just some of the questions that the County must answer on behalf of the officers, the inmates and the hundreds of thousands of citizens from around this state that are being put into harm’s way each and every day.