Park police cutback rankles Camco chiefs

By LEO STRUPCZEWSKI Courier-Post Staff July 4, 2008

Overnight police patrols in Camden County's 22 parks were cut this week -- a move that has drawn concern from local law enforcement agencies.

County officials said the move was one that makes "perfect public safety and economic sense," saying the park police department has seen a decrease in incidents over a four-year period. In 2007, they said, there were fewer than two incidents reported to police between midnight and 8 a.m.

But local law enforcement officials voiced concern over the move, saying it shifts the burden on departments and municipalities who currently face "trying budget times."

The Camden County Park Police had been using two officers and a supervisor to cover the parks between midnight and 8 a.m., said Ross Angilella, the county administrator. Those officers now work on two other shifts -- 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 4 p.m. to midnight -- when park usage is at it's highest.

Those shifts saw about eight incidents and seven and a half incidents, respectively, county officials said.

The move to vacate the overnight shift was spurred by a 2003 study, conducted by the International Association of Police Chiefs, which suggested downsizing the park police and contracting with local law enforcement agencies.

Under the plan that went into effect Monday, the county is not compensating any municipality that is now patrolling county parks overnight.

In a prepared statement, Camden County Chief's Association President Rick Tsonis, also the chief of the Haddonfield Police Department, said municipal departments were never consulted in the decision-making process.

"The elimination of the midnight patrols is an attempt to shift cost, liability and responsibility to local municipalities," he wrote. "Before such a plan is implemented, all parties affected should participate in the decision process."

Angilella said county officials reached out to local mayors and police chiefs "over the past couple of months."

The only area where county park police are working an overnight shift is at the county's Lakeland complex in Gloucester Township, which houses the county's hospital and juvenile detention center.

Angilella said the county is attempting to reach a deal with Gloucester Township in two weeks, in an effort to free the park police from that duty, as well.

Gloucester Township Mayor Cindy Rau Hatton could not be reached for comment.

James D'Angelo, the chief of the county's park police, said his officers would not stop patrolling the area if Gloucester Township did not take over.

Asked if he was concerned about the possibilities of an emergency, Angilella said: "I understand the "what could happen.' But we have to go by what the statistics say. And the statistics are overwhelmingly clear. It's just crystal clear. You put the resources where they're needed. They're not needed from midnight to 8 a.m."

Reach Leo Strupczewski at (856) 317-7828 or lstrupczewski@courierpostonline.com

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