Harrison hires 7 new rookies to meet demands for massive population growth
Gradually, the Town of Harrison is taking steps to rebuild its police force to meet the needs of its growing population.
Last week, the city filled seven vacancies on its police roster, just one shy of its organization table maximum of 51 members — the most officers allowed by city ordinance. And that remaining slot should be filled soon.
But getting to this point has not been easy, said police chief David Strumolo.
“When I took over as chief in March 2018, we had a total of 34 police officers,” Strumolo recalls. “Since then, two-thirds of our staff have left. Raising that overall figure has proven to be a monumental task. It took us four years to get to where we are today.
Reflecting this transition, he noted, is the fact that before the wave of retirements, the department’s average age was around 40, whereas today it hovers around 40. years.
In accordance with protocols established by the state civil service, “we certified 150 candidates on a civil service hiring list to obtain our seven new officer candidates,” Strumolo said. Some ended up failing background checks, some didn’t pass a medical, some took jobs with other police departments, and some just gave up.
Meanwhile, the city’s population continued to grow. “In 2018 we had about 17,000 residents and now it must be over 20,000,” Strumolo said, with additional developments, mostly in the city’s waterfront redevelopment area, coming online. “Harrison is one of the fastest growing cities in the state.”
To ensure the safety of all residents and businesses, Strumolo said he asked the mayor and the city’s police committee to authorize the expansion of the police department, to hire an additional officer this year to reach the 51-member TO and five more in 2023. and they agreed to raise the bar.
With additional personnel available, Strumolo said he had the opportunity to set up specialized units such as community policing, road safety and crime suppression.
To increase uniformed visibility around the city, the department will add two new officers to each highway patrol shift and purchase two new patrol cars to supplement its fleet, he said. Typically, the HPD periodically leases patrol vehicles as needed to replace older cars in the fleet, but this will mark the first outright fleet increase in recent memory, he said.
Additionally, in the coming year, Strumolo said the department will open a police substation at Harrison Parking Center, in the heart of the Riverside Redevelopment Area.
“We will begin staffing the new facility during morning and afternoon rush hours with officers from our traffic and community policing units,” he said.
These officers will focus on any garage security issues that may arise, keep an eye on the high volume of commuters using the nearby PATH station, and assist with crowd control at Red Bull Arena.
These officers can also help residents renew annual resident parking permits and distribute city-issued literature informing residents of city-sponsored programs and events, he said.
Strumolo said the department also plans to acquire two motorcycles to be assigned to traffic and parking officers. “It’s a must for us,” he said, to help with crowd control at football games and other arena events and related traffic issues. “It will give us more flexibility.”
With federal Homeland Security funding, the department purchased a Sprinter van to serve as a command vehicle that can serve as a backup emergency dispatch center. It is also equipped on the outside with a 150-foot-long drone camera attachment.
“We will also add a K-9 unit, primarily for explosives detection. Probably within the next three months we will apply through the department for any officer who wishes to apply as a dog handler. Once someone is selected, that officer will be paired with a dog for training. The process can take up to eight months,” the chief said.
Strumolo estimated that the city is investing about $250,000 for its fleet expansion and canine enforcement.
Each of the seven new officers will earn the current starting rate of pay of about $45,000 a year, he said. Three have prior experience as law enforcement officers in other jurisdictions and are currently going through a period of internal orientation. The other four will go to the Passaic County Police Academy for 26 weeks of training before beginning assignments in Harrison.
The new recruits are: Cindy Alba, a New Jersey City University alumnus and former Class 1 special officer at Guttenberg; Gerard Castellano, a William Paterson University alum who served a year as an officer with the Irvington Police Department; Jessica Clarke, who worked for a funeral home in Somerset; Carlos Delgado, an NJCU alum with a business degree who served as a Hudson County Sheriff’s Officer for a year; Christina Ritch, an Arizona State University alum who served as the Essex County Sheriff’s Officer for four years; Gina Versaguis, an Army veteran who worked at the front desk of a medical facility; and Jonathan Puglla, a former Uber driver.
Once all seven are fully operational in Harrison, the HPD will have 17 officers who are fluent in Spanish and/or Portuguese, according to Strumolo, which he noted means: “There will be no never a time when we will not have Spanish. speakers among our officers on the road.
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