By DON STINE
As expected the Neptune Township Committee voted this week to abolish the police director position and create a three-member Police Committee to oversee the police department.
An ordinance, approved in a four-to-one vote, eliminates the Police Director position, now held by CFO Michael J. Bascom for the last four years, and turn it over to a three-member police committee. The committee will be comprised of two members of the Township Committee and another at-large member. The police committee will be responsible for the overall performance of the police department while the chief will be in charge of day-to-day operations.
The change comes in the wake of sexual harassment lawsuits and a discrimination lawsuit filed by police officers in the department.
Mayor Michael Brantley said that three appointees, or at least the two governing body members, will be appointed to the police committee at the next Township Committee meeting.
He said that community support for the change to the police department has “been tremendous outside the meeting room.”
“Many people feel it’s about time a step like this is taken and this a move in right direction,” he said.
Brantley said the decision to remove Bascom as police director does not reflect personally on him.
“This is not a statement about him or his ability. He has done his job, we have respect for him and thank him for the job he has done in all of his positions, including police director. We are doing what we were elected to do in representing the voters of Neptune and having oversight of every department- which we now have,” he said.
Committeeman Kevin McMillan cast the sole vote against adopting the ordinance.
“I just think the timing, implementation, and execution of it leaves a lot of details out and I have reservations about it. You don’t make this type of move without having everything in place and that creates concerns for me,” he said.
He said he would like to see a smoother transition on a change like this.
“We always knew this (police director) position had a finite life but this (ordinance) just happened so abruptly and I don’t agree with that- and it doesn’t bode out well. I would like to see empirical evidence to prove this is a good move,” he said.
McMillan said he recognizes the police department has had some major issues in the past but that people tend to overlook the good things the police department has done.
“People are looking so much at the bad and overlooking what good is being done- I don’t think that is fair to the department. Always bringing up these unfortunate issues of the past only keeps opening old wounds that will never serve to heal the community,” he said.
Bascom, in a prepared statement, said he agrees with McMillan.
“While I feel that the ordinance being considered is poorly timed and has been rushed through without any input from our Police Department leadership, I recognize that it is the will of the governing body and that my displeasure with this ordinance will not change that,” he said.
Bascom said he was always aware that the police director position was not permanent but was transitional and meant to assist the police department.
“But it was never intended to be replaced with the structure proposed by this ordinance, one that creates a cumbersome structure for the chief of police to work under. If you want to end the police director, that is fine, but creating a police commissioner and police committee will hamper police operations,” he said.
Bascom said many significant upgrades and changes have been in the police department in recent years under the existing setup.
Resident Michael Golub said he feels the police committee is a step in the right direction but he feels the initiative does not go far enough. He said police director position “invested too much power in one person” and lacked transparency, which he hopes will improve in the future.
“It made a bad situation (in the police department) worse,” he said.
Golub said the community has various opinions on the matter
“Opinions run the gamut with a wide spectrum on the issue and in different degrees,” he said.