When Montclair community leaders issue indictments charging insufficient civilian oversight of the Police Department, just who is it they are indicting?
Under New Jersey law, all Police Departments come under and report to civilian authority. The law refers to this as the “appropriate authority” ultimately responsible for the rules, regulations, and policies of the Police Department. Under Montclair’s form of government, the Township Manager is the Chief Executive Officer over all departments and moreover is specifically named as the “appropriate authority” – i.e., as the civilian authority – over the Police Department. Therefore, anyone who charges a failure in civilian oversight is charging a failure by the Manager and no one else.
The Montclair Township Manager (Marc Dashield) has alleged that the Montclair Police Chief (David Sabagh) is not on the scene enough when major incidents occur in the community. He cites this as a critical reason that he is pushing for the creation of a new position in Montclair of Police Director. But, as someone who should surely know, I can tell you that this issue, if true, could be corrected in one minute with one phone call. Call the Chief and direct him to be present at major incidents. We need to create a new position for this?
A second reason being cited as a need for a Police Director is disgruntlement in the ranks. Yet, in over twenty years as the civilian authority over Police Departments and also today as a consultant to law enforcement agencies, I can say with certainty that some degree of disgruntlement in the ranks is the rule, not the exception, in all Police Departments. Experienced government officials know this. If for no other reason, every time someone is being given a promotion, someone else is being denied a promotion. But if a Chief is not properly supported by Town Hall, this issue can grow and fester.
The tactics being used by those in Montclair who propose to create a new position of Police Director are uncalled for, to say the least. Instead of putting forth solid public policy positions as to why this might be a good idea, proponents have instead chosen to demonize a good man and an exemplary Police Chief. Chief Sabagh is a caring, compassionate human being and family man, a decorated Police Officer with a sterling record of integrity and accomplishment, and – as a graduate of the FBI Academy and holder of a Master’s degree and other educational credentials ̶ is the most educated Police Chief in Montclair’s history. During my tenure, he demonstrated leadership and responsiveness and was highly respected as a Chief throughout the county and state. So what has changed? There is no way that Chief Sabagh is not smart enough to put in place any policy or program necessary to address community concerns, given the proper support from Town Hall. But trying to tear down such a dedicated civil servant is no way to build a better community.
Joseph Hartnett, Montclair Township Manager: 2003 – 2010