Robert Dikun is now promoted from a Point Beach police lieutenant to captain and an officer will be hired and stationed at the two, local public schools, despite the votes of a few council members.
At the Tuesday night council meeting, Council members Bill Mayer and Stephen Reid voted against the promotion, while Council members Andy Cortes, Kristine Tooker, Michael Corbally and Bret Gordon voted for it.
Mayer, Reid and Cortes voted against hiring a new police officer as a "school resource officer." Tooker, Corbally and Gordon voted for it and Mayor Vincent Barrella voted yes, breaking the tie.
Barrella said hiring a new officer will help the town towards returning to its state-recommended level of at least 24 officers, which should lead to the town recouping lost state aid. He said that because the manpower level has dropped to 21 full-time officers, the town lost $24,000 in funds from the state's Safe and Secure Grant.
Reid, Mayer and Cortes said they were worried there was not enough money in the budget to pay for a promotion and a new hire. Cortes voted for the promotion only because, he said, an ordinance requires the department to have a captain. The three also said they believe Dikun does a great job.
Those voting in favor said they were confident, based on preliminary budget figures and how the two measures can ultimately also save money, that the costs are covered.
Barrella said, "When I first came here, we had 26 cops and past councilmen cut back on police. If you want to be a town, you do what you need to do. If you don't start bringing new people in, you might as well write the epitaph for Point Pleasant Beach. My vote is yes."
Dikun’s promotion was effective as of Tuesday, when council voted.
Police Chief Kevin O'Hara said in an email on Thursday that Dikun's promotion was "well deserved and long overdue."
"My department has been over 33 months without a Captain," O'Hara said. "We went almost two years short a Lieutenant also, until Lt. (Joseph) Michigan was promoted last year. Many factors out of our control have dictated things that we seem to be targeted for."
O'Hara said in an email that Dikun's base salary of $118,680 as lieutenant will increase to a base salary of $127,581 as captain.
O'Hara said that the new officer's base salary is $47,554, he will be in the police academy from April 18, 2013 until September 18, 2013 and will be assigned as a School Resource Officer in September of 2013.
When asked if the officer will work in both public schools, O'Hara replied in the email, "Details of their assignment will not be disclosed fully, but I can tell you that they will spend some time in each of the schools."
Resident Marilyn Burke questioned why the town is promoting Dikun to captain and hiring a police officer now when there is a concern about the budget.
Gordon said that a local ordinance requires that the police department have a captain.
"Also, it's the right thing to do," said Gordon, the council's liaison to the department. "You have an individual who saves us more than you can imagine," said Gordon, saying that Dikun's legal expertise enables him to train and guide police officers to do their jobs efficiently and fairly which has prevented lawsuits.
Burke said part of her concern is due to Dikun earning about $70,000 in overtime which she described as "gross."
"No, it wasn't gross," Gordon said, adding that was in 2011, before the department promoted Joseph Michigan from sergeant to lieutenant, which helped cut down on Dikun's overtime. Gordon said he did not know exactly how much Dikun's overtime was reduced last year, but that he would get that information to Burke.
"Whatever overtime he earned was well-earned and well-deserved," Gordon said.
On Thursday, when asked about the 2012 overtime, O'Hara wrote in an email,
"For 2012, I do not have Captain Dikun's exact numbers, but I know that his gross overtime was around $26,000 and his net, after Sandy and outside event payments that were reimbursed, it was around $16,000."
"The total overtime for the PD for 2012 was $196,004. Out of that $82,383 was 'Sandy' related; $,3,738 was reimbursed by organizations that held an event which created the need for overtime.
"That leaves a balance of $109,883 which includes court security overtime and dispatch coverage. Those two issues no longer will apply because of the hiring in June 2012 of a fourth, full-time dispatcher and the altering of the court shared services agreement which no longer requires my PD to staff court sessions.
"We also gained a third administrative officer in the end of March of 2012, (Lt. Michigan), this promotion has allowed us to alleviate the workload for administrative officers that we had in 2011.
"Deduct all that was listed above and I show a net PD overtime of $88,996 for 2012. In 2012, we also had one less officer, Sgt. Otto retired in December of 2011 and was not replaced."
O'Hara also said that in 2011 the overtime total was $228,449.
"Out of that was $95,000 for the Rice Crispy program in the summer of 2011, $25,077 from Hurricane Irene overtime, and, yes, Lt. Dikun had over $70,000 in 2011 created mainly by the shortage of administration that has been previously explained numerous times in articles and at public meetings.
"I feel it wrong that people would keep bringing up the past, which has been justified and explained over and over again."
Just a bit more than a year ago, the debate over the overtime raged to a point where Dikun provided a written response. To read the past article and Dikun's full response, attached as a PDF, click here.
At Tuesday night's meeting, Corbally said to Burke, "I haven't always agreed with Lt. Dikun, but what he has done with training has been great. It's amazing what he does with 50 to 60 officers. He brings an inexpensive law firm into the police department."
Different Opinions on Hiring a School Resource Officer
Regarding hiring the new officer and planning to station either him or another officer at the two local public schools, council members also disagreed.
Reid said the town simply cannot afford to hire a new officer now.
"You are the one who brought it up at one of the last meetings," Gordon said, looking at Reid and referring to meeting minutes. "I have your quote right here. You said we need to do this and we have to have the political back bone. This town will always have financial concerns, but God forbid something happens to one of our kids!"
"Yes, I did say that, but now I've sat on finance meetings with Bill Mayer and we have no money," Reid said. "I'm still for it, but I think there needs to be a different way to do it."
Barrella said the preliminary budget figures show that the budget is about $77,000 under the state-mandated tax levy cap.
"What is your basis for saying we can't afford it?" Barrella asked Reid.
"We're under for now, but I don't think we can afford it," Reid said. "And now is not the time to promote a lieutenant to captain."
"You'll never approve anything if it costs a penny," Gordon said. "If you want to be a second-rate town, like some of the towns in our vicinity, that's fine, but I don't want that."
Reid then said to Gordon, with obvious sarcasm, "You've been in government your whole life."
Barrella responded, "He's been in the military his whole life, you owe him an apology."
"Why is it," Reid asked, "then whenever I disagree with you guys, I'm a bad guy?"
"I don't think you're a bad guy, Stephen," Barrella replied. "I think you're a political opportunist, but you're not a bad guy."
Cortes said he also opposes the new hire.
"At this time, I don't want to add another burden to the budget, we don't know how that's going to go," he said.
Mayer, chairman of the council's finance committee, said, "It's irresponsible to do this now. It should be done as part of the budget process, not now."
Corbally said he favors the promotion, the new hire and possibly making one or more promotions to public works, partially to replace an official there who recently passed away.
"We can't cut corners on cleanliness and safety," he said.
Gordon said the benefit of stationing a police officer in the schools goes beyond helping to avert the kind of tragedy that took place with the mass shootings of students and staff in Newton, Conn., in December, which was something discussed a bit at the council meeting.
"There's also a drinking issue in this town with these kids," he said. "Hopefully, an officer earns the trust of the kids and gathers intelligence."
When O'Hara was asked about the past practice of stationing a school resource officer in the schools, he said that ended about two years ago as the department lost personnel through attrition.
He said the officer was in the schools from September through June and helped supplement the road patrols near the boardwalk during the busy summer months.
When asked about using a lower paid special police officer as a schools officer, he said placing a special police officer in the schools simply doesn't meet the prevailing standard.
"The national standard wants a full-time officer in the schools," he said. "If you have a full-time officer in the schools, he can build relationships with the staff and students. He goes to the games, the dances, handles everything with the schools and becomes a trusted person on staff."
With an officer stationed in the schools, the state may re-institute funds that have been lost and an additional officer helps reduce overtime, O'Hara added.
Gordon said the Board of Education is looking into possible funds to help pay for the school resource officer.