Police advisory committee framework proposed

Commissioners settle on site of new election drop box.

At its latest work session, Haddonfield’s board of commissioners discussed the framework for a police advisory committee that would be a bridge between residents, officers and the governing body.

The subject was broached last year in conversations between Commissioner for Public Safety Colleen Bianco Bezich and Police Chief Jason Cutler, according to the former, during the April 5 virtual session.

“It developed over time, because I know we’ve had a number of residents express concern about everything from social justice to mental health to how to approach police and firefighters about issues they’re concerned with,” Bezich noted.

“So we talked through whether or not it would make sense to deal with those things within the Human Relations Committee context, or directly with the police chief, or if he chooses to directly involve police administration.”

Consensus between Bezich and Cutler revealed the committee would be composed of seven to nine residents, in particular members of the community who have routinely brought questions about issues related to community policing to the two officials.

The two remaining commissioners would be able to submit names of individuals, or reach out to folks they know, to gauge their interest. The goal would be the establishment of an informal committee that would meet monthly or every other month. Bezich invited Mayor Neal Rochford to join the meetings after his term expires in May.

“I envision this more as a learning experience for the department, myself and everyone included, because there are a lot of issues that happen throughout town that we’re never made aware of,” Cutler said.

“It’s just another avenue of communication, a little bit more formal, so we can help the community and the community can help us. That’s what we’re looking for.”

Bezich has worked up a draft resolution she will submit to Borough Solicitor Mario Iavicoli for his legal advice. She believes an ordinance for establishment of the committee wouldn’t be necessary, as it is not intended to be either a commission or sub-agency of borough government.

“On so many levels, it makes sense. If you’re sitting in on the committee, hopefully people will spread the word to their friends and peers that the police are doing something about a particular issue,” Rochford added.

Commissioners were also able to agree on the location for a new election drop box residents can access leading up to the May 11 election. After brief discussion about an area in front of borough hall or behind it, near the “Little House” that used to host Interfaith Caregivers, the decision was made for the former locale.

The drop box is expected to be placed in front of the building at sidewalk level, between an exit path for vehicles onto Kings Highway East and a retaining wall that separates a sloping hill from the sidewalk itself.

Per state law, soon to be signed by Gov. Phil Murphy, the drop box cannot be placed within 100 feet of the entrance to a municipality’s police department.

“Part of the genesis is voter intimidation against those who may be perceived as immigrants or those who don’t have lawful status or have a background where they would be less comfortable coming to a location where they would be perceived as a threat by police,” Bezich explained.

Another piece to the puzzle required the drop box be within clear sight of an external camera. Both the front and rear of the municipal building are covered by such technology.

“Initially we wanted to have it so (residents) can just drive up and drop it off, like a mailbox,” McCullough added of voter ballots. “We’re not going to be able to do that in any of those locations. So (people) will just have to park and walk it up.”

In support of the front-of-house location, Commissioner Jeffrey Kasko cited Haddon Township’s own drop-box location sits in a conspicuous spot in front of its town hall.