Council approves $475K for township police on first reading

Upgrades to include Tasers and dispatch/computer equipment

At its most recent meeting on Sept. 14, Gloucester Township Council took the first step in approving upgrades of equipment for the township police department.

Upon first reading, council approved by a 5-0 vote a $475,805 bond ordinance that calls for borrowing approximately $450,000 to purchase capital equipment for police. The ordinance is expected to go before a public hearing at council’s next meeting later this month.

According to the agenda, the purpose of the bond ordinance was for the “acquisition of various equipment for the police department,  including, but not limited to, Tasers, dispatch equipment and computer equipment.”

One resident at the meeting questioned the need for the new equipment and what exactly the funds would pay for. Police Chief David Harkins provided  some context.

“This is part five of a five-year plan called the Officers Assistance Plan,” Harkins explained. “It’s body-worn cameras, Tasers and our in-car camera systems that are all included in this payment.”

Resident Paul Krug also asked for more information during public comment, specifically about the need for new Tasers.

“Are the Tasers or body cameras on our police officers today defective or at a defective rate, which would warrant a necessity for new equipment?” he asked.

Harkins responded that the department is in a one-to-one trade program in the event Tasers or body cameras stop working or become defective, and officers test equipment before every shift.  According to the chief, the Tasers the department uses automatically turn on an officer’s body camera when a Taser is activated. According to Business Administrator Tom Cardis, the bond ordinance allocates $157,000 for Axion Tasers, $64,000 to upgrade dispatch services and $30,000 for miscellaneous equipment.

About $200,000 of the funding will go toward computer upgrades. With the township still using Windows 2007, Cardis said he believes the upgrades are very much needed. According to Harkins, the department recently underwent a state audit that recommended computer upgrades.

Krug’s comment time ran out during the first public portion before council passed the bond ordinance upon first reading. But Krug approached council again following the vote, saying he didn’t believe borrowing money was necessary given the circumstances.

“What I heard was that the equipment is well maintained and in working order, maybe apart from the printers … But if things are up to snuff on maintenance, they’re working,” Krug argued. “It’s keeping our citizens safe, it’s keeping our police officers safe. Maybe a bond ordinance isn’t particularly necessary.”

Krug then referenced the fact that the township issued a tax anticipation note earlier this year to potentially borrow money because of uncertainty regarding various revenue streams during COVID-19. The township’s maximum borrowing power was approximately $53 million under state law.

According to officials, Gloucester Township borrowed $10 million in July, months after issuing the tax anticipation notes.