Deptford Township wants to create a public safety director position that will take over administrative duties in various municipal departments, including the police.
At a remote meeting last Monday, township council introduced an ordinance to create the position. It will be up for public hearing and an adoption vote on Monday, June 22.
The township reintroduced the ordinance after protests and confusion following its previous meeting. On May 18, an ordinance appeared on the council’s work session agenda to create the public safety director position and “abolish the position of chief of police,” according to the ordinance’s title.
The news broke as Deptford’s current police chief, Kevin Pencoast, prepared to retire on July 31. News of the original proposal was a surprise to many, including Deptford Township Detective Cpl. Odess Myers Jr., president of the Deptford Township Lodge No. 72 Fraternal Order of Police.
“That was a real shock to everybody,” Myers said. “Nobody knew it was coming. (The chief) is an important part of our structure.”
During the remote council meeting, a group of residents protested outside the municipal building to “keep the chief.” But township officials had already decided prior to the meeting to retain the chief of police position. The reintroduced ordinance includes both the public safety director and chief of police positions.
Deptford Mayor Paul Medany confirmed in an interview following last Monday’s meeting that the township will appoint current Deptford Police Cpt. Frank Newkirk to take over as chief following Pencoast’s retirement later this summer. Newkirk is scheduled to be sworn in as interim chief of police on July 3, to allow for a smooth transition into the position. The interim role will be removed after July 31.
Medany also discussed the public safety director position and explained how the proposal stemmed from the township’s desire to put an added focus on public safety. The township formed a public safety committee earlier this year consisting of stakeholders from the township, school district, fire department and other sources. The committee took a look at numerous issues, such as school safety, public health, weather emergencies and emergency response.
“We talked about it during the course of last year,” Medany said about the formation of the committee. “The public safety committee was meant to be all encompassing.”
So is the director position, Medany said. The director will oversee the township’s Department of Public Safety, which includes the police department; the Division of Emergency Management Services; and the township’s ambulance, rescue and first aid squads.
Medany said the idea behind the new ordinance is to have the public safety director focus on all areas of the police department, allowing its chief to be more involved in day-to-day police operations.
“We just thought it would be a better conduit between the township and the police department to keep improving efficiencies,” Medany said.
The Sun acquired a copy of the ordinance from the township clerk’s office last Tuesday. According to the ordinance, the director of public safety will be treated as a department head and appointed by the township manager, with the consent of Deptford Township Council. The director will serve for a term of office set by council.
The ordinance says the director will have “complete responsibility for the fiscal and administrative affairs of the police department.” Some of the listed job duties include the adoption of rules and regulations for the governing of the police department, administration of the department budget, appointment of the department’s officers and employees and oversight of all departmental hearings.
The duties of the police chief will include administration and enforcement of department rules, assigning the duties of all subordinates and personnel, and the delegation of authority “as he may deem necessary for the efficient operation of the department.” The chief will report at least monthly to the director of public safety.
The public safety director will also supervise the Division of Emergency Management Services, as well as ambulance, rescue and first aid squads operating within the township. The director will assign school traffic safety guards employed in the township. Council also approved a separate ordinance on first reading to insert the director position into the council’s salary ordinance. The salary range for the position will be between $50,000 and $80,000.
The ordinance requires the director to have experience in business administration, law enforcement or both. It also dictates that the director must meet one of the following requirements:
- Ten years of administrative business experience and a minimum of a high school diploma or its equivalent
- Five years of experience in business administration for a governmental agency and a master’s degree in business administration or a juris doctorate
- Five years at the rank of lieutenant or greater in law enforcement
- Three years as a lieutenant with a post-secondary education in either public administration or criminal studies, as well as advanced law enforcement administrator training.
- A rank of E-9 or higher in military service for five years, either remaining in that rank or having been honorably discharged from the service.
After hearing the chief of police position would be retained, Myers said he was pleased by the development, but is still unsure about the public safety director position because of the lack of information the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has received regarding the changes. The FOP is one of two police unions representing officers in Deptford Township. The Gloucester County Police Benevolent Association Local 122 also represents officers in the department.
A “keep the chief” campaign was started on social media, with police officers and residents both appealing to township officials. In a Facebook post on May 29, the FOP said following a meeting with Medany that Newkirk would be the new chief.
“We’re not completely against a public safety director,” Myers said. “Our main focus was saving the chief’s position.”
“Everybody has confidence in Frank Newkirk,” the detective continued. “He’s going to do the right job as the chief.
“We look for someone who is going to give us leadership and be the guiding light.”
While it appears the chief of police position will be retained, Myers hopes township officials will communicate with both the FOP and Police Benevolent Association (PBA) about the proposed changes regarding the public safety director position, so everyone is on the same page.
Medany said township officials have a strong relationship with the police department and he believes the proposed changes will allow for police to operate more efficiently and put a greater focus on serving the community.
“We’ve always worked well with the police department,” the mayor said. “We meet regularly, we work together, we have community policing.
“We had community policing before it was even popular.”
The public hearing for both the public safety director position and a related salary ordinance will be held at Deptford Township Council’s work session on Monday, June 22.