NJ Supreme Court Sends Critics of Camden’s Police Regionalization Back to the Drawing Board

Last month, the Supreme Court of New Jersey held in Redd v. Bowman that challengers to the City of Camden’s decision to regionalize its police force proposed a valid ordinance to maintain the existing police structure. However, the state’s highest court ultimately concluded that the related referendum petition could not go before voters because too much time had passed since it garnered the necessary voter signatures in 2012, specifically citing that it no longer reflected the current status of Camden’s police force.

The Facts of the Case

In an effort to decrease expenses while expanding police presence in the City, the City of Camden decided to disband its municipal police department and to contract with Camden County for the delivery of police services to the City of Camden by a countywide police department. In response, a group of City voters, acting as a Committee of Petitioners (Committee), attempted to block the regionalization of the City’s police services by invoking the Optional Municipal Charter Law (Faulkner Act). The Committee submitted an initiative petition for the adoption of a proposed ordinance that would have required the City of Camden to create and maintain its own police force, and would have enjoined the City from disbanding its municipal police force and replacing it with a countywide police force.

Plaintiffs, Dana L. Redd, Camden’s Mayor, and Camden’s Council President Francisco Moran filed a complaint seeking to enjoin the Committee’s Faulkner Act initiative. They argued that the proposed initiated ordinance unlawfully restrained the City’s legislative power and that it was preempted by the Municipal Rehabilitation and Economic Recovery Act (MRERA), the Special Municipal Aid Act (SMAA), the Transitional Aid to Localities program (TAL), the Local Budget Law (LBL), and the Police Force Act.

The trial court found that the proposed ordinance constituted an invalid divestment of the City’s legislative authority. The Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s judgment and remanded for a determination of whether the state fiscal statutes preempt the proposed ordinance. Before the Committee’s appeal was argued in the Appellate Division, Camden’s municipal police force was disbanded. Since May 1, 2013, the Camden County Police Department, Metro Division, has provided police services to the City of Camden.

The Court’s Decision

The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded that the proposed ordinance neither effected an unlawful divestment of legislative power nor was it preempted by state statutes. However, it still found that the relief sought by the Committee in its 2012 petition could not be granted in a manner consistent with the Faulkner Act because the outdated ordinance does not reflect the current status of Camden’s police services. As Justice Anne Patterson explained:

Because the reorganization that the ordinance was intended to forestall was completed more than two years ago, the ordinance as drafted is inconsistent with current circumstances. Accordingly, the ordinance may no longer be supported by all of the citizens who backed it with their signatures, and it cannot meaningfully be evaluated by the voters. The presence of an out-of-date ordinance on the ballot would contravene the Faulkner Act’s objective that voters be presented with a clear, understandable proposed ordinance that they may accept or reject as they see fit.

In light of the court decision, Justice Patterson instructed that the committee “must start anew with an ordinance that reflects the facts as they now stand.”

For more information about the court’s decision or the legal issues involved, we encourage you to contact a member of Scarinci Hollenbeck’s Government Law Group.

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