Hackensack NJ police coppers recoup overtime pay as arrests plunge

By on September 2, 2022 0

The Hackensack Police Department is a poorly run agency whose senior officers focus more on overtime pay than actual police work, concludes a scathing report from a former Bergen County chief that the city has hired to review the department.

Written by Robert Anzilotti, retired chief of the Bergen County District Attorney’s Office, the report paints a particularly damning portrait of the officer in charge of Hackensack, Captain Darrin DeWitt. Although it never mentions DeWitt by name, the report states that he and other senior officers are “some of the highest earners related to unscheduled overtime, compensatory time and extra-duty traffic details.”

Meanwhile, morale has plummeted at the department’s base, arrests have dropped 85% over the past eight years, and city detectives are boasting a solve rate of just 11%, according to the report.

Anzilotti advised city officials to hire an outside police director to lead the department because those in command now “seem more focused on improving their own pay.”

“This assessment revealed that the current culture within the Hackensack Police Department is not to the point where any one individual can assume command and return it to a proactive, professional and evidence-based police organization,” said writes Anzilotti.

The report is the latest in a series of calamities for the 107-officer force, which for the past 15 years has been beleaguered by controversies, lawsuits, administrative complaints, officer arrests and infighting.

Mayor John Labrosse declined to comment Friday. Dewitt, the officer in charge, did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

But in a statement accompanying the report, Hackensack City Manager Vincent Caruso said he was “troubled” by the findings.

“As public servants, we are all held to a higher standard,” Caruso said. “These standards have simply not been met by the HPD in recent years. The City of Hackensack is committed to addressing these systemic issues and ensuring our police department is fully accountable to residents, and it there will be major changes to achieve this goal.”

City officials pointed to their recent decision to hire retired New Jersey State Police Lt. Col. Ray Guidetti as director of police as evidence that they plan to address shortcomings in the police. ‘agency.

New Hackensack Police Superintendent Ray Guidetti pictured in council chambers Wednesday August 24, 2022.

“I understand the challenges ahead of us and I am confident that we can get back on track,” Guidetti said in the statement. “I will use all of my knowledge and experience to instill leadership and accountability throughout the department and refocus our officers’ dedication to public safety.”

Overtime “Meet the Easter Bunny”

City officials hired law enforcement consulting firm Anzilotti to review the department in December 2021. The six-month assessment found Hackensack officers did not have the accountability they had in the old days.

Senior brass have not prioritized weekly command meetings and DeWitt has not held a department meeting since taking over more than a year ago, according to the report.

The agency also dropped its practice of filing individual time sheets, which Anzilotti said would have made it easy to spot agents who might be abusing their free time.

The report blamed those lapses on an internal police culture that appears to prioritize overtime and traffic details, he said.

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Anzilotti pointed to soaring overtime costs as evidence.

In 2021, Hackensack officers worked more than 9,100 overtime hours that cost the city nearly $926,000. Additionally, agents were paid more than $1.8 million for additional traffic details, which the report says is a 115% increase since 2016.

Department heads cited a labor shortage as the main reason for untimely payments, Anzilotti said. But many of the overtime hours were for pre-planned events such as training, graduations, national night, and a “Meet the Easter Bunny” event.

“Much of this overtime could be limited by better planning,” the report said. “Explanations of overtime generated by filing staff do not reflect a prudent financial management mindset.”

Anzilotti said the change harms public safety, fatigues officers and erodes line officers’ confidence in their leaders. Especially when senior officers – including DeWitt – earn the most extra money.

“Setting this example negatively impacts the entire department,” the report said. “When the desire to increase compensation through these methods begins to interfere with the primary mission of public safety, it may not only impact public safety, but may also impact the personal safety of the staff as they attempt to balance normal duty time with additional traffic details and overtime assignments.”

The figures prove the ministry’s priorities, according to the report.

While service calls have remained stable, overtime costs have increased by approximately 25% each year. Meanwhile, the number of arrests has dropped dramatically, dropping 85% between 2014 and 2021, according to the report.

“Department leadership throughout this period … has focused less on day-to-day police work and more on the ability to generate overtime and work on additional traffic details,” Anzilotti wrote.

This hurt staffing and productivity in nearly every part of the department, including the patrol, detective, and traffic divisions.

Eventually, the city should fill the chief’s position with an officer who has risen through the ranks, Anzilotti said. But he could not find such a candidate.

“The existing culture does not seem capable of developing leaders from within,” he wrote. “None of the command staff interviewed offered any change other than reinstating the position of chief of police…there was no credible vision to move the department forward.”

The report recommended hiring a director of police to oversee the department and redirect the force to community policing and public safety, provide much-needed leadership and accountability, and mentor the officers under them.

“While things fundamentally need to change, none of this will happen in a vacuum,” Anzilotti wrote. “This will require considerable effort and attention from the Director of Police and command staff.”

Writer Nicholas Katzban contributed to this report.