Town, PBA Reach Agreement On Police Tech

By on November 13, 2014

MyVeronaNJ-Police-SlideIt has taken four months, but Verona’s town government and the Verona Police Department’s PBA Local 72 have finally reached an agreement on solving problems with Police Department technology.

In July, PBA Local 72 took the highly unusual step of hiring a lawyer to serve notice to the town of tech problems that went back six years in some cases. The problems ranged from dead or unusable handheld radios, non-working patrol car video cameras, current officers having to use the log-in credentials of retired officers on the department’s Info-Cop computer system, lack of access to a federal drug trafficking database and the control of department’s video interviews by an individual who was not a sworn officer of the law.

In an agreement dated November 7, the town and the PBA agreed to a series of changes in how technology would be managed for the police. A dedicated server for the Info-Cop system has been acquired and installed, and should be usable by the middle of this month. A new server has also been installed for the department’s computer-aided dispatch system, and the town expects to have the new 911 system that it is sharing with Cedar Grove in place by the end of this year.

The Detective Bureau’s investigation interview recording system is now self-contained and accessible only by sworn VPD officers. The township has changed inventory controls on batteries and antennas for the handheld radios and has committed to discussing the acquisition of new radios under its 2015 budget. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has been contacted about giving the VPD access to the so-called HIDTA drug trafficking database, but that has not yet happened.

Finally, the agreement puts the chief of police squarely in charge of managing and controlling the department’s IT system. It specified that only sworn law enforcement personnel and civilian employees designated by the chief will have access to the system, and that the VPD will get a dedicated network, servers, firewall and related systems that are separate from the town’s IT network by April 21, 2015 or 21 days after capital ordinances are approved.

Anthony Condorelli, president of the PBA, expressed satisfaction with the agreement. “The IT agreement with the Township has been signed and we as a local are satisfied with the agreement,” he said. “The local has had an IT committee in place during this process and that committee will remain intact to ensure that the terms of the agreement are adhered to.”

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Mayor Bob Manley said that, “I am thrilled that it is done and over with. It took a little longer than we wanted, but I am pleased that out is finally over. I know that [Township Attorney] Michael Gannaio worked very hard on this. The relationship that he had with the PBA’s attorney worked to everybody’s benefit. The PBA has the autonomy they requested, and they are in charge of their own destiny as far as IT is concerned.”

“I’m glad that this agreement is signed,” said Town Council member Frank Sapienza, whose son recently became a police officer in Newark. “But I also feel we need to revisit this in three months to make sure we are moving forward.”

Council members Kevin Ryan and Michael Nochimson also hailed the agreement, but voiced concerns that additional measures are needed.

“I am pleased for the Verona PBA that their requests have been met,” said Nochimson, “but it disturbs me that it took four months to rid the Police Department of this internal nuisance. The lack of cooperation and leadership exhibited by certain department heads, who had been given the fiduciary responsibilities to work as a team, deserves further investigation and discipline.” Nochimson added that the agreement was “the confirmation that a problem existed”, and said, “now we have to focus on why this went on for so many years. This type of behavior should not be tolerated in our township.”

“All of the problems cited by the PBA were valid and required corrective action,” said Ryan. “I am still disturbed by the fact these problems existed for years and were not properly handled by the police chief and the town manager until the PBA filed a formal complaint.”

“The employees that caused the problem need to be held accountable,” Ryan added. “I would also like to see a review of our entire IT operation in the rest of the municipality. Why should we assume the poor judgement and incompetence were just confined to the Police Department? I will be raising these concerns with my fellow councilmen. I am also very concerned we still have not been given access to the HIDTA data base. I believe this is an ongoing indictment that the DEA was so frustrated by the relationship with the Verona IT personnel they are reluctant to allow the Verona police department access to their systems.”

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No individuals were named in the final agreement, from either the Police or the IT departments, nor did the agreement state what would occupy the IT department’s time now that a sizable part of its responsibilities had been shifted to the police. Mayor Manley said he had spoken with Town Manager Joe Martin about this latter issue. “I am confident that there is enough work around the district that will fill the niche that is opened. I don’t know exactly what yet, but from the conversations that I have had with Mr. Martin, I am confident that there will be plenty to fill the void.”

And one Town Council member held out the possibility of other consequences. “One of the most disturbing [issues] is not mentioned in the document,” said Deputy Mayor Jay Sniatkowski, “that someone entrusted with sensitive information can potentially leak information to the media. That is a cowardly tactic to push a political agenda. Putting out one side of a story before the matter is looked into and not giving people the right to defend themselves is a violation of someone’s basic rights, a situation that not a single one of us would want done to us.” Sniatkowski did not name who he suspected of a leak. “It’s ironic that while questioning someone’s judgement that very action itself is cowardly and show extremely poor judgement,” he said, adding “I will continue to push our town attorney to look into the source of that leaked document.” The agreement did not mention a resolution to one other aspect of the PBA’s complaint: That Martin threatened the police officers who turned their concerns into a legal matter.

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